Tomorrow’s unfortunate news today

I can see the future! Obviously I’ve made lots of predictions over the years and many of them turned out wrong. And while I can’t say exactly when and how things will happen in the future, I can see the future of the United States easily enough over the next decade or so. Most likely, so can you. And it’s pretty depressing.

You can see it too if you are paying attention. Republicans have given up on democracy. They actually gave up on it decades ago, but they knew the only way to get rid of it was to make it a long term project. And they have. For forty years or so they’ve been chipping away at it and they are likely to win at the project, at least in the short term. One things which is clear: if you think things are crazy now, just wait. It’s going to get much, much crazier.

And so much of this is preventable. It requires two erstwhile Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) to do something they don’t want to do: change Senate filibuster rules so national voting rules can change. Of course, Republicans won’t allow it. Why on earth would they ever vote against the self-interest of their own party?

The most modest proposal by Manchin would simply require all states to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department on their voting rules. This would presumably strip states of the ability to offer fewer polling sites in black and minority neighborhoods. House Democrats want to outlaw partisan gerrymandering, at least in federal elections. But in any event, it’s a dead idea. Even if Manchin agrees to amend filibuster rules in this case, Sinema has expressed no interest. So we’re going into the 2022 and 2024 elections with gerrymandering cranked up to an 11 in Republican states. This means Republicans are almost guaranteed to win back the House in 2022.

It’s abundantly clear that most Americans don’t really care about democracy. For decades Republicans have been stripping most civics classes from school curriculum, so it’s more than possible these now adult voters have only a hazy idea of what democracy is about anyhow. Gerrymandering and voter suppression have been going on for decades, distributing power disproportionately, and it’s left voters unmoved. What they do care about is gas prices and they will hold politicians in power accountable if they get too high. This largely explains Joe Biden’s tanking approval ratings.

Voters also have no patience. They expect everything to be done yesterday. Biden is doing a remarkable job moving legislation through a highly partisan Congress with tiny margins, but they don’t care. They are fixated on prices at the pump. Climate change? They don’t care. Climate change is an existential crisis but they are just trying to get through the day. There is plenty of evidence that voters are already ignoring plenty that Democrats have done for them, like temporary child care tax credits. They don’t see these things; they only see the price of gas at the pump.

Regardless, voting matters little if the results can be easily overturned. These red states are putting partisan hacks in charge of their election systems and are allowing state legislatures to overturn results if they don’t like the results. It’s the sort of election Vladimir Putin would approve of, and it’s coming to the USA. For sure though it will be in place in 2024 when narrowly red states like Georgia simply won’t let its voters have a say if their voters vote for a Democratic president. The state board of electors will assign them to the Republican candidate anyhow.

Once Republicans are in charge, adhering to the rule of law will seem quaint. Trump proved skilled at manipulating the Justice Department. In a future Trump or Republican presidency, the rule of law won’t mean much. In the unlikely event the Supreme Court rules against the administration, that won’t mean much either. President Andrew Jackson’s Trail of Tears was a direct result of openly defying the Supreme Court on the matter of relocating native Americans. Jackson realized the court’s authority could not be backed up by force. It depends entirely on the integrity of the president, who will have none.

So expect it: law enforcement will become partisan and selective. The president will ignore decisions he doesn’t like. The president will issue executive orders that violate the law and the constitution. With the Congress in Republican hands, and likely to stay there through a corrupt election process, rule of law and justice just become moot. The president does what he wants and we effectively have a Congress that merely salutes the president. It’s coming.

Of course there will be resistance. There will be inevitable court challenges, huge marches and demonstrations, etc. And because they can, law enforcement will get very heavy handed. Not just the National Guard but the entire U.S. military will be used to enforce martial law. And it won’t end there. Inevitably there will be pogroms and systemic retribution and persecution. Anyone who ever spoke up against Republicans will be targets, and you can bet they will include Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and plenty of others. At some point they will probably come for me too.

It’s coming, it’s coming. It’s all so clear and obvious. But it’s not clear to senators Sinema and Manchin, even though this behavior is entirely predictable. They just prefer to live life with blinders on. History will be extremely unkind to them, if it can be written at all. Like so-called Critical Race Theory, the victors won’t allow it and at some point will make truth illegal.

I wish this weren’t going to happen, but I don’t see how it will be stopped. God help us. If you are a praying person, it’s time to pray. And if you’re not, it’s a good reason to pray anyhow because there simply isn’t the political will to do what much be done to save the republic.

It’s time for Democrats to encourage Republicans to be anti-vaxxers

I’ve reluctantly concluded that it’s in our national interest to encourage Republicans not to get vaccinated. Really, those of us who care about a true representative democracy and civil rights for all should be giving gobs of money to Facebook and right wing sites to make sure they keep reinforcing anti-vax messages.

It’s cruel, it’s crazy but it’s also what Republican “leaders” have been doing to their own supporters since the covid-19 outbreak began. They judged the cost the cost of killing off so many of their supporters justified the larger goal: to wrest political control and to ensure a future Fascist States of America. And true to form, the sheeple that form the basis of their party followed along, dying disproportionately, needlessly and pointlessly of covid-19.

Yes, this left a lot of grieving family members and orphans. My new suggestion for us Democrats to encourage them would leave more of the same. But desperate times call for desperate measures. If working with Republican “leadership” we can kill off enough of their voters, then maybe our coming democracy crisis can be averted.

Implicit in the idea of democracy is that the voters are well informed. It’s clear that Republican voters are not as they are largely only getting one perspective. The switches in their minds that allows critical thinking has been turned off, and appears to be permanently turned off. Most of these Republicans who get covid-19 and survive it don’t seem to regret their foolish behavior. It’s clear they have no problem at all passing on this disease in the name of “freedom”, and are highly offended at the mere idea of masking up in public places. They are already public health menaces. They are already threatening the lives of the rest of us. And they’ve been at it for nearly two years now.

Democrats have a basic humanitarian instinct built in. That’s true with me. Of course I hoped Republicans would avail themselves of highly effective vaccines for covid-19 that were available for free. I hate to see anyone suffer because I’m not a sadist, and that includes those whose political views I find repugnant.

For Republicans though, sadism is the whole point. Freedom equals sadism. Gaining disproportionate political power is justified by all means necessary, legal, illegal or immoral. “Owning the libs” is the oxygen that seems to keep them alive. They can’t wait to have a fascist state. Many of them are looking forward to civil war and looking forward to hanging a lot of people like me at the earliest opportunity that their future fascist state allows.

Given these indisputable facts, maybe by me and people like me simply encouraging their own proclivities to kill their own kind by promoting counterproductive disease management policies is something of a kindness. It’s a kindness to me, as I have some hope of surviving their obvious hopes of genocide. If there has to be genocide, let them do it to themselves.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Right now a global climate change summit is wrapping up in Glasgow, Scotland. With a Democratic administration, we are making substantial commitments to address our disproportionate share of carbon and methane emissions. It’s clear though that a future Republican administration, much like the unlamented Trump Administration, would simply ignore the issue, if not fan its fames. The effects of the climate crisis are crystal clear. Republicans in power would do everything possible to make it worse.

So it’s imperative that we kill a lot of Republican voters prior to the 2022 and 2024 elections. The easiest and most benign way to do so is simply to encourage them to double down on their own stupidity. Let’s taunt them even. “So many of you so-called Republicans are secretly getting the covid shot! You are hypocrites! You should not allow any of your neighbors to get anywhere near a CVS Pharmacy. You should demand the local CVS and Walgreens withdraw all covid-19 vaccinate shots, and the same is true with your hospitals and physicians offices! It should not happen. Form militias to make sure it can’t happen!” It’s likely this would play right into their playbook, and their “leadership” would approve. To the extent possible, we want to clear the voting rolls of these people, which is possible if they die painful deaths from a wholly preventable disease. Clearly this will help them feel as if they are owning the libs … any of them who are left anyhow.

All this feels deeply wrong to me, and goes against all my humanitarian principles. But it seems to be necessary and this is the most benign way possible to do it: by simply reinforcing their own prejudices.

So I guess make it so.

Nantucket

When you are married, unless you are a traveling salesman you don’t tend to travel alone. But on rare occasions I do travel alone.

Today I spent my second day traveling alone in Nantucket, a spit of land about twenty miles long off Cape Cod. My wife has a gaggle of far flung girlfriends taking over our house this weekend. Traveling to Nantucket seemed better than dealing with the noise and lack of privacy I’d have to endure. It was that and I’ve always wanted to go to Nantucket. I doubted I could coax my wife to visit it, so why not?

Nantucket Harbor Area
Nantucket Harbor Area

Martha’s Vineyard is probably the more famous spit of land off Cape Cod. I’ve been to Martha’s Vineyard but once was enough, perhaps for life. But except for Woods Hole and Falmouth, Cape Cod was largely unknown to me. This visit marks my first time I’ve to the arm of the cape. To get to Nantucket you need a ferry, and most of them go out of Hyannis, on the south end of Cape Cod.

It wasn’t just wanderlust that took me to Nantucket. I come from a family of ten. Perhaps to feel better for having a large family, my father read us Cheaper by the Dozen as children. The book relates the large Gilbreth family of the early 20th century. The patriarch, Frank, made a lot of money in the emerging field of motion study. He helped businesses find ways to accomplish manual labor more efficiently, which allowed him to prosper while having a dozen children. In the book, the family’s lengthy summer vacations to Nantucket took up a chapter or two. The family holed up near the beach at a house with two adjoining lighthouses they called The Shoe.

The Shoe still exists! I rented a bike today to see the island, and one of my first stops was Hulbert Avenue where the two lighthouses, renamed by Frank as Mic and Cyc can still be found. The lighthouses were sold to the Gilbreths and moved inland. The two light houses plus the main house were affectionately called The Shoe for Old Mother Hubbard who had too many children. The Gilbreth house has likely been rebuilt since the late 1910s and 1920s when the Gilbreths were summer visitors. The neighborhood feels upper middle class.

“The Shoe”

Since I only had two nights, I had to be selective. The guy at the bike rental shop warned me that I could not bike both sides of the island in a day, so I chose the eastern side of the island. I imagined Nantucket to be more rural and less populated than Martha’s Vineyard. It is certainly harder to get to, and a very pricey place to live. Getting to and from the island will cost you at least $50 or so. If you want to bring a car back and forth, it’s over $300. Known mostly for its summer tourists, in November, the main city at the harbor feels 75% shut down. I was lucky to be able to rent any bike, as only one bike shop remained open. Fortunately, it was only two blocks from my B&B.

For being a very new island, Nantucket has quite a bit of history. It only emerged from the ocean about five thousand years ago, after the last glacial melt. This suggests it won’t endure very long. Given our climate change crisis, it may be mostly underwater in fifty years. Naturally, Native American tribes beat the Europeans there.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Nantucket gained fame as the home of whaling. Until the discovery of petroleum, whale oil was in large demand and most of it was refined in Nantucket. Fleets from Nantucket traveled the world’s oceans and brought back the whale oil to Nantucket.

It was about the time the Gilbreth’s found the island that it found a new mission: a summer destination for well moneyed tourists, many of whom like the Gilbreths built houses. Its isolation allowed its citizens to become surprisingly progressive. There was a large Quaker community here, and people who felt exploited often came to Nantucket because no one particularly cared if you were not white.

Brant Point Lighthouse and Harbor
Brant Point Lighthouse and Harbor

Some of the earliest women in American politics came from Nantucket. Nantucket generated one of the first accredited female physicians in the 19th century. Psychologically, you feel away from it all on the island. Except for the few that arrive by plane, getting to the island or off of it involves a ferry. You can still take the old fashioned steamboat ferries, but I arrived on one of the high-speed ferries that shortens the commute to an hour each way versus two and a quarter hours for the steamboat ferry.

November turned out to be a good time to visit. While the days are short, you don’t have to fight traffic although downtown it was still hard to find a parking space. With temperatures in the fifties and abundant sunshine, biking was a pleasure. The island has many bike trails that I followed out to the town of Siasconset on the southeast side of the island. There I encountered the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in many years. Looking out to sea, I realized a seal was surreptitiously looking back at me from time to time.

Beach near Siasconset
Beach near Siasconset

Like Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket today feels largely like a place for the wealthy to live or get away to. But it feels less busy than the vineyard. As on Martha’s Vineyard there are plenty of ordinary people, mostly engaged in commerce, that somehow get by in spite of the high cost of living. I paid $60 for dinner for very good chicken curry with naan and desert. To live here must mean a lot of additional expenses going to and from the island. The high cost of living is explained in part by the costs of getting goods to the island. The Steamship Authority carries a lot of loaded semis to and from the island. I watched them queue up this afternoon from an observation post on the top of the Nantucket Whale Museum.

There are no mountains on Nantucket, and it is less forested than Martha’s Vineyard. But after biking more than twenty miles of biking today, I discovered I spent a lot of calories getting up gently rising bluffs of compressed coral. You can find what looks like many multi-million dollar estates, not just on bluffs by the sea, but further inland.

In town, you get a picture perfect vision of New England island life: cobblestone and bricked streets, long wharves, Cape Cod houses, picturesque streets with eateries, boutique shops, B&Bs and rental units, most pretty close to the beach.

So Nantucket certainly does feel unique and special. That it’s hard to get to is part of its allure. You don’t go to Nantucket on a whim, at least not unless you have a sizeable bank account. The mainland is just barely visible, and only on clear days. In most directions if you look out there is nothing to see between you and Europe.

If I lived long enough, I’d enjoy spending a decade or so on Nantucket. Meanwhile, I feel privileged to have come here, however briefly.

Dogmatism is our enemy

Dogma in the broad sense is any belief held with unquestionable certainty.

Wikipedia

America is being strangled by dogmatism. Happy yet?

We’re awash with dogmatism and thanks largely to social media and more specifically Facebook, most of us are living in a dogmatic virtual reality. So dogmatism was driven in part by the dogma of capitalism: that the capitalism is always good and the private sector’s innovations like social media should go unquestioned.

But when you look at what’s wrong here in America and in most of the world, the root issue is dogma. It’s killing us. It’s not just dogmatic capitalism, it’s the dogma in most religions and most of our political parties. Right now dogma is consuming the Republican Party. That’s the thing about dogma. If you accept a dogma, by definition you don’t have to search for the answers: they are already there. It’s right and just for you to “make it so” regardless of the cost.

Dogma shuts the mind behind a steel door. And the inside room is designed to be so super comfy you never have to leave. If you need entertainment, there is the large screen TV that watches you all day parroting the message of 1984. Big Brother knows best. You can delegate all thinking to him. Your role is to sing his praises and when needed fight to the death to make sure we are always at war with Eastasia.

What really upsets the dogmatic is when people question their dogma. The response is to not allow it to be questioned. America has never been a racist country so simply prohibit its teaching in principally southern states. Abortion is the taking of life so simply don’t allow it, even though a zygote is not even technically alive and can’t even become an embryo without a uterus attached. The world is a messy place, but we can at least pretend it’s not a messy place by simply refusing to accept reality. With enough dogma, reality is irrelevant. You make your dogma that which everyone must do and this dogma becomes reality.

Pluralism is the idea that we are a bunch of people with different perspectives so we have to work together cooperatively as best we can. Dogmatism is fundamentally opposed to pluralism. That we know how dogmatic regimes all ends up though does not seem to be enough to stop these dogmatists from requiring everyone to be dogmatic just like us. When dogmatism directs a state, it becomes tyranny. So not surprisingly, the dogmatic are rushing to create tyranny. Only in tyranny where they get their way can they find peace.

It’s just that no tyranny lasts forever. Hitler’s didn’t last much more than ten years and killed tens of millions of us. Ditto with Stalin’s tyrannical reign, and arguably he killed a lot more than Hitler. But the champ of them all was probably Mao Zedong. Somewhere between 15 and 55 million people died in China as a result of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. As so it has gone time after time for millennia. So we can predict with almost absolute certainty that if the dogmatists in the Republican Party get their way, it will happen here too.

The irony of course is the United States was founded specifically as a response to repeated lessons learned in Europe and elsewhere. Our founding fathers learned firsthand why it’s a really bad idea to merge church and state, or to have a king. We set up a republican form of government specifically to keep from happening exactly what the Republican Party now seems eager to create. Through pluralism we would not find peace exactly, but we would create a government that could peacefully work through differences between various factions. It obviously went awry during the Civil War, but the Union eventually prevailed. Now Republicans want to create a new civil war, and seem to be chomping at the bit to get it started.

So far at least they are trying to do it through cooption, rather than overt violence. If you can seize the powers of government through technically legal but dubious means, you can make it so. It’s been a project Republicans have been working at for decades that is now coming to fruition. They’ve packed our courts with conservatives. Through gerrymandering and voter suppression, they are giving themselves grossly disproportionate minority control of government. Now they are working hard to ensure they never have to relinquish power. They are giving state legislatures the power to overrule to voters choice and putting in partisan election officials to ensure that the ballots are stuffed so they can’t possibly lose. Once they control all three branches of government, with no constraints on their power, they simply take charge forever. Law that says otherwise is only meaningful if someone will actually enforce it.

Realizing all of this, I suggested that maybe we don’t want to save the republic. These states are run by dogmatists and they won’t see reason. It would be better to let them go and let the rest of us states that do believe in pluralism retain a functioning government that actually represents the will of the people. It’s unclear though whether these rebel states would be satisfied. Their goal seems to be about power and control, and they appear all too willing to institute fascism in blue states simply to “own the libs”. Somehow, fascism will Make America Great Again.

Few of these red states, in an honest election, would actually vote to secede. Alabama and Mississippi might but not even Texas would in an honest election. Leaders in these states seem to sense this which is why they want to preclude its possibility by wresting control from a democratic process. God help us.

The news from Newport News

My blogging has been delayed by an overdue family reunion. Months in the planning, all but one of my siblings and most of our spouses met in southern Virginia, our first get together since my father’s funeral in 2016.

We chose what turned out to be a beautiful but eclectic rental house on the James River near Spring Grove, Virginia. This manor house was built in 1885 and is part of a larger Baptist Edge Christian Camp. Most of us were not aware of its rules, which included no alcohol with the threat of immediate eviction if we imbibed on the campus. It didn’t stop us from drinking several bottles of wine while we were there, but we were discreet enough to put the empty bottles in our cars for disposal off campus. The alcohol prohibition seemed quite odd, as if these Christians were unaware that Jesus drank wine at the Last Supper. Also, we found wine glasses in the cupboard.

Manor House at Edge Christian Camp
Manor House at Edge Christian Camp

The house itself was in need of a lot of maintenance but was certainly functional and included a large kitchen, dining room, parlor and a large enclosed deck with lots of tables for playing cards. It was a mini Tara and scratched whatever itch I had to live on a plantation for a while. It stands on a bluff overlooking the James River and was so far off the beaten path that Hooterville would have been a major metropolis. The closest town of Surry was a 20 minute drive away. You had to drive many a poorly marked back road that turned into an unpaved stretch, then take a “road” around a tree to get on the campus.

James River
James River

The Tidewater area of Virginia is pretty amazing. It sits at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. The James River is just one of three major rivers that flow into the area. (These include the York and Rappahannock rivers.) Most rivers tend to be pretty narrow, but it’s hard to find a stretch of these rivers less than a mile across. So if you are a boater, it’s an ideal location to live as there are waterways everywhere as well as access to the Atlantic Ocean if you want to go that far. It’s also likely to be severely impacted by climate change. Sea levels are already rising, making my sister’s house in Poquoson a likely future casualty. Fortunately, she expects to move from the area within a few years to higher ground.

Jamestown - Scotland Ferry
Jamestown – Scotland Ferry

There’s a lot of history to be found in the area. One of the first places we visited was Jamestown, right across the river from us, accessed by the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry which runs every half hour. Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in North America. Settled by venture capitalists in England, it was never financially successful. Early colonists died of hunger, disease and malnutrition. But it endured, which makes it historically significant. Technically though the first European settlement in North America happened in St. Augustine, Florida. It just took a couple of hundred years for the title to pass from the Spanish to Great Britain and then to the United States.

Jamestown
Jamestown

One of the areas downsides is its traffic. It took us more than an hour to get to any site from our house. The dearth of bridges across the James and York rivers make traveling tedious, as did the frequent traffic congestion. Williamsburg, Newport News, Yorktown and Hampton are all on a peninsula between the York and James Rivers, further limiting mobility. The Colonial Parkway at least makes for a scenic road to get between places. After Jamestown, we took it to tour Yorktown.

As you should recall, the Revolutionary War ended at Yorktown. A French fleet bollixed up the British fleet by keeping it from getting out of the Chesapeake Bay. A combination of our soldiers and French soldiers laid siege to Cornwallis’s forces there, who eventually surrendered. I came back two days later to tour the actual battlefields, where the earthen berms created by our forces still exist.

Yorktown battlefield
Yorktown battlefield

With just three full days and many family obligations, plus the long commutes to and from our house, touring was limited. But we did manage a tour of the Norfolk shipyards, which documents the huge size of the U.S. Navy. The area though is rife with other government institutions, including Army and Air Force bases, and a NASA research facility at Langley Air Force Base where my sister leads a team of spaceflight researchers. We also took in the Virginia Air and Space Science Center, and was given a guided tour by my brother in law. He has excellent credentials as he used to be the manager for the International Space Station.

Apollo 12 command module
Apollo 12 command module

So it was a great albeit somewhat short reunion, made longer by the hour-plus hour drives each way from our home in Massachusetts and the usual traffic woes between them. A “bomb cyclone” that hit New England even affected us as its winds whipped up the waters, making for a loud night of gale force winds locally that kept us from getting much sleep.

The Hampton Roads area though is worth more extended visits. It’s one of these areas of the country that should be visited much more than it is and would be quite an interesting and exciting area to live.

Speculations on the future of digital “currencies”

So my $88.31 or so that I was paid in BitCoin on July 1st is now valued at $174.20, according to BlockFi, where it still sits because I’ve been too lazy to sell it and turn it into U.S. dollars. Looks like my natural lethargy worked in my favor as if I had sold it for on August 2nd, when I last blogged on this topic, it was worth $109.71. I’d be out the $64.49 in extra value it has accumulated since then. If the “currency” continues to rise as it has since I acquired it on July 1st, I’ll get a 666% return on investment and it will be worth $587.95 on July 1st, 2022.

The people who study this stuff think that maybe one BitCoin will hit $100,000 soon, perhaps because it looks like a BitCoin futures electronic trading fund (ETF) will soon be approved by regulators. Anyhow, the guys I follow on YouTube are still all agog on digital currencies. Graham Stephan is upping it to five percent of his portfolio.

Should I do the same? With our portfolio hovering close to $2M, that would be $100,000. No, I don’t think so. But since I have only $174 of digital currency at risk, I see no harm in keeping the BitCoin I have to see how it does as a speculative asset. It will be interesting to track it at yearly intervals.

These digital “currencies” are clearly becoming a new market, like it or not. Lots of people like me continue to feel largely baffled by these virtual currencies. It’s easier to get behind them though when you consider that most currencies are like BitCoin: virtual. That’s true of the U.S. dollar because it’s a fiat currency.

In my last post on this topic, I lamented that there were no assets behind these “currencies”, unless you count the value of the electricity that it took to “mine” one of these “coins”. The U.S. is now the largest miner of digital currencies, and most of it is occurring in Texas where electricity is cheap, at least until there is another winter storm that knocks out most of its power grid. Since most of this power comes from non-renewable sources, owning currencies that are energy intensive to mine, like BitCoin, should come with a carbon tax. Maybe that would deflate its surreal valuation.

Its value is based purely on supply and demand. Which makes me wonder if these currencies are the latest version of a Ponzi scheme and I now own a tiny fraction of an electronic tulip. If it’s a Ponzi scheme, you want to sell your crypto before the market collapses.

What perhaps can be said is that this new “market” is still getting established and time will tell if it’s got legs. But on the other hand, BitCoin has been around since 2009. It’s hard to see it collapsing altogether, if only because so many people have vested wealth in it, and won’t want to lose their investment in it. These “currencies” though are so easy to create that clearly not all them will survive.

I do think that these “currencies” that more closely imitate real currencies are likelier to survive. A lot of work is going into creating versions of these “currencies” that act as currencies. For example, you can buy so-called stable coins whose value is tied to currencies like the U.S. dollar.

These stable coins are generally underwritten by private insurers. Governments are thinking of putting banking-like regulations on companies offering these stable coins, emulating FDIC-like protections. It will be interesting and confidence building if governments but their good faith and credit behind these stable coins by essentially underwriting them. By doing so though they tend to undermine the foundation by which digital currencies were unleashed: to detach themselves from the shackles of traditional currencies. It’s unclear why these “currencies” based on stable coins should be preferred to currencies already in circulation.

I wonder if there will be a Black Tuesday for these currencies. Black Tuesday was the event that kicked off the Great Depression. One of the lessons from Black Tuesday was we needed to keep banks from collapsing, so we formed the FDIC. Because of their decentralized nature though, there’s nothing to prevent a Black Tuesday for crypto, and no organization to prevent it or from happening again.

What’s more likely in my mind is that the block-chain technology rather than these “currencies” will prove to be where its true value lies. Nonfungible tokens, for example, offer proof of ownership and transfer, and work on block-chain technology pioneered by “currencies” like BitCoin. If the goal is to do away with traditional banking, these miners may be onto something. I’m much more skeptical that they can succeed in creating currencies that will be as ubiquitous and fluid as traditional currencies like the dollar.

Waitress vs. Moulin Rouge

We saw two shows during our recent trip to New York City. It was good to enjoy Broadway again, albeit behind a mask. The two shows, both musicals, could hardly be more different. One, Moulin Rouge, won the award for best musical. The other, Waitress, has run sporadically on Broadway since 2016.

Given that Moulin Rouge won best musical, the choice would seem to be obvious. Waitress was nominated for best musical in 2016, but lost. If you were to judge a musical by audience enthusiasm, Moulin Rouge would be the clear choice. It’s relatively new, although it opened on Broadway in 2019 and abruptly closed when the pandemic started. There was a buzz outside the theater as we tried to get in. The lady next to me in row U was hopping with excitement, and she was hardly alone. The dancing was amazing. The songs were familiar and plentiful. The sets and staging were lavish. At the end, people were actually dancing in the aisles. That and the inflated ticket prices should make this an easy call.

We saw Waitress at a Wednesday matinee. It’s based on the 2007 indie film of the same name that was something of a cult hit. Its star, Sara Bareilles, was also the musical’s songwriter and lyricist. There was virtually no dancing, and the sets were rather plain. Perhaps the most interesting item on its set were two arrays of pie plates that went from the stage floor to the top of the curtain.

Moulin Rouge had the virtue of being familiar and comfortable. If you saw the movie, there were virtually no changes except for adding more songs: there was a lot of time to fill. The movie was a surprise hit, fusing modern music with late 19th century Paris. So if you liked the movie, it should be hard not to like the musical. Just don’t expect Ewan McGreggor or Nichole Kidman in the lead parts. In the movie you got Jim Broadbent as Zeigler. Danny Burnstein does a pretty good job as Zeigler, and brings a slightly manic and mischievous energy to the part.

In Waitress, unless you are a Sara Bareilles fan, the music should be unfamiliar and original. Any new music in Moulin Rouge simply wraps the popular tunes you already know. In Moulin Rouge, part of the tension is between the haves and the have nots. In Waitress, the focus is on ordinary people. There is no character like the Duke to loath although lead character Jenna’s husband comes close. In Moulin Rouge, the focus is on love; in Waitress the focus is on good people generally in bad relationships and the mistakes they make. For most of the show the star Jenna is having an affair with her gynecologist.

In the movie Moulin Rouge, Kidman and McGreggor bring a unique energy to their relationship. Sadly, it did not translate well on this Broadway stage. I tried hard to suspend disbelief, but for all the dancing and singing, the characters felt largely emotionally empty. Seeing it on stage made me realize that its plot is just piffle and comes off as extremely unconvincing.

On the other hand, the relationships in Waitress, however dysfunctional, seem grounded in real life and are wholly plausible. So many of us have walked these parts: waitress or waiter, short order cook, frequent diner patron … just ordinary folk. Unless you lived a very privileged life, Waitress is much more relatable. Moreover, at least with the cast I saw, the characters were easy to identify with and the energy on stage between the cast seemed real.

So the result surprised me. I was so excited to see Moulin Rouge as I really enjoyed the movie. The inflated ticket prices we paid and its best musical status made it feel like a sure bet, but it disappointed. Ultimately, it was a lot of glitz and spectacle, but missed the human element.

Waitress, on the other hand, was engaging, endearing, full of life’s complexities, musically enthralling and felt both real and meaningful.

So my take: skip Moulin Rouge‘s high ticket prices and go see a story that’s going to move you instead: Waitress.

The Fed can’t save the rest of us

It’s tempting to say there are four branches of government. In addition to the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, there is effectively a fourth branch of government: the Federal Reserve.

Often called the Federal Reserve Bank, it’s not a bank at all. You can’t deposit money into it, withdraw money from it or take out a loan with it. Many Americans have a vague idea what it does but almost no one knows where it’s actually located (Eccles Building, corner of 20th Street and Constitution Avenue in Northwest D.C.). More often referred to as “The Fed”, it is an institution that controls the supply of U.S. dollars. It also controls the banking system in the United States and has since 1913 when the Federal Reserve Act was passed by Congress.

The Fed has seven governors, most famously its chairman, currently Jerome Powell. While you may not pay much attention to the Fed, the financial world certainly does. When the Fed chair testifies or speaks, it can move markets instantly, often severely. Your portfolio can crash or soar depending on what these seven governors decide. They indirectly affect huge swaths of the economy, including interest and unemployment rates.

The curious thing about the Fed is that unlike the rest of our government it operates largely independently of politics. It’s mostly controlled by Republicans, since Republican presidents appointed most of the governors, currently with a 6-1 Republican lean. Each governor gets a four-year term, but once appointed, there’s not much anyone can do to remove a governor. It’s basically unaccountable.

The Fed’s special sauce is to control the money supply of U.S. dollars. It can create dollars as needed and doesn’t need to actually print them. For those few who still need paper or coins, the U.S. Treasury makes them. Lately, the Fed has created trillions of dollars in response to the pandemic. It does have a mission: maximizing employment, stabilizing prices, and moderating long-term interest rates. But really its only tool to do these things is to control the supply of U.S. dollars and then to figure out what to do, if anything, with that supply.

Before the Great Recession, its only real tool was to set a benchmark interest rate for banks to get money from the Fed or each other. In that recession they invented a new tool: quantitative easing. It gave itself permission to buy a lot of quasi-public debt, specifically U.S. housing debt in mortgage-backed securities in government managed institutions like Freddie Mac. This had the effect of flooding the market with cheap cash. The Fed hoped the money would be used to create stuff, but a lot of it was used by companies to buy back their own stock, inflating share prices without adding any value. As a result, the stock market had a slow recovery.

During our more recent pandemic recession, the markets weren’t calmed much by moving interest rates to near zero again and quantitative easing. Been there, done that. So the Fed invented new policies. This time they would use dollars it created to buy corporate debt outright, and in unlimited supply. This had the effect of flooding major companies with money, which again was mostly used by companies to buy back their own stock. It over-inflated the stock market.

One indirect effect was to push up the value of people’s portfolios, at least those who had portfolios. This gave them trickle down money to spend. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to spend it on as the economy was in the tank and most people were home, but at least there were houses to buy with the money. It caused a run on housing prices, which is counterproductive if you are a renter.

But it’s good we had the Fed. In the Great Recession, particularly after Republicans took the House in the 2010 election, the White House and Congress were at loggerheads on new spending to stimulate the economy. Sensing it was good for the party if they were obstacles, Republicans didn’t allow much of it. The Fed’s actions did allow a slow recovery, but it was needlessly slow and painful because of inaction in Congress.

In the pandemic recession, Congress was able to get relief to a lot of Americans, so the Fed’s actions were more ancillary. The Fed succeeded in calming then boosting stock prices and making money cheap to borrow again, which helped the economy. It also inflamed inflation concerns.

My point is that the Fed has limited tools at its disposal. To the extent that it can lower unemployment, its actions are indirect at best. It’s much easier for it to move markets up than it is to bring down unemployment rates. The latter is a problematic outcome of the former.

There is the perception that the Fed has saved us in the last two recessions. But mostly it succeeded in pushing up asset prices, deciding that our country as a whole was too big to fail. But the stock market is not the economy. It can’t fix the economy. That can only happen if the White House and Congress work together to take necessary actions.

We saw some of that while Trump was president: expanded unemployment benefits, rental assistance, etc. That has continued under the Biden Administration, which got additional stimulus into the economy as one of its first priorities. This is money that largely went to everyday people for things like child care. This money allowed people to avoid some poverty but also to stimulate the economy. This way, along with spending bills like Biden’s Build Back Better proposal, affects ordinary people and the economy as a whole. The Fed’s effect is indirect, at best.

There aren’t many tricks left in the Fed’s toolbox to use in the next recession. Instead, what we need is functioning government in Washington where legislation that actually meets the needs of the people occurs. But if Republicans win back one or more houses of Congress in 2022, it seems they will be more preoccupied with Biden losing a 2024 election than doing what’s in the interest of the American people.

Traveling in the age of covid

We’re leaving New York City after three days of playing tourist. It’s my first trip away from home since the pandemic began.

It’s been interesting to see how much has changed for tourists in the age of covid, which turns out to be quite a lot. In NYC there are definitely privileges associated with being vaccinated. For one, we could get in to see two Broadway shows. Our vaccination cards and IDs were checked at the door, but even so we could not take off our masks during the performance. If you were eating or drinking food from the concessions, you could briefly unmask, but that was the only exception.

Amtrak requires you to self certify that you are vaccinated or have a recent negative covid-19 test, but doesn’t check your credentials. You wear your mask on the train, except when eating or drinking. Their cars are pretty big so it’s likely it wouldn’t be a problem if you were unmasked, but better safe than sorry. The penalty for not wearing a mask could be permanent disbarment from Amtrak.

You end up wearing a mask most of the time because most of the time you are indoors. There are a few exceptions when indoors. It’s pointless inside your hotel room. We had breakfast at our hotel and it was not possible when eating, but to get into the restaurant you had to show proof of vaccination and show an ID. Most people kept their mask on in the restaurant except while eating.

When outdoors, most people were unmasked. Those who were masked probably just didn’t want to bother temporarily unmasking. It’s not pleasant to spend most of your day breathing your warm air, but you do get used to it. The only real problem if that masks can get wet from your own breath after a while. I discovered a cloth mask is preferred, as a paper one I bought failed when looping it over my ears.

How safe is all this in the delta age? It’s hard to say. It’s unlikely I have acquired an infection, but for all I know I might test positive. I just don’t have any symptoms. I’m probably fine despite being in close quarters with other humans for hours at a time.

Without a N95 mask, masks won’t prevent me from getting covid, although they can lessen the odds. Their purpose is to reduce the risk that if I have the virus that I will pass it on to others. It’s basically common courtesy; wearing a mask effectively says that I care to take proactive steps to inadvertently pass it on to you. Not wearing a mask effectively says the opposite: I don’t care enough about you to bother to inconvenience myself by wearing one. No wonder that those of us who are vaccinated by 2:1 majorities are for requiring mask mandates for everyone.

So the vaccine can’t prevent exposure to the virus or ensure you don’t get the disease. If most everyone masks, it reduces greatly the odds of getting infected. But it does mean that if you are exposed to the virus, you may test positive but have no symptoms. The main point of the vaccine is to lessen the likelihood of hospitalization and death. That’s how vaccines work. So I expect that I will get covid-19 at some point, or at least test positive for it. If I’m lucky, I’ll never develop symptoms. If I get it, I will almost certainly not die from it and avoid hospitalization. And if most of us wear masks in public we can markedly reduce the level of infections and deaths.

I am noticing some new trends. At least in New York, restaurants are going menu-less: you need a smartphone to see the menu. You scan a QR code and follow the link to the menu. This saves a lot of paper, obviously, but it also allows restaurants to save money printing menus and to dynamically change prices. This is true of museums and other tourist attractions as well. For example, when we toured St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we used a QR code to download an electronic tour.

We were last in New York City in November 2019. The city has obviously changed since then. There are a lot of closed restaurants, even close to Broadway. Many restaurants are taking over sidewalks and parking places, allowing outdoor dining. The city doesn’t feel quite as busy and vibrant as it did back then. Broadway is about half reopened.

In general, New Yorkers are vaccinated and vaccine-savvy, and don’t have a problem masking up. They suffered 30,000 fatalities early in the pandemic, which helped, but being a large multi-cultural city they have learned to mostly get along with each other and are used to following rules.

It’s not surprising then that the city has weathered this latest covid wave reasonably well. These restrictions seem to be working reasonably well, allowing the city to do what it does best: make money. Judging by our hotel rates and ticket prices, they are making plenty of it again. I doubt this is true of most Southern states.

Save the republic?

It all feels so inevitable because this is a play we’ve been watching unfold for decades. Republicans have known that long that demographics are against them. For conservatives, it’s largely always been that way because they stacked the deck so that if they lose, it won’t be very often.

Assembling this country we call the United States involved enormous compromise, mostly by Northerners to bring in the Southern states. Since the constitution was ratified, southern states have been granted disproportionate federal influence. Slaves counted as three fifths of a person for electoral voting purposes, despite having no legal rights. This allowed Southern states to mostly control the Electoral College and the presidency for our first hundred years.

In fact, the Fugitive Act in the 19th century resembled Texas’s latest anti-abortion law in that it allowed private individuals to recapture slaves in the North and bring them back to the South, usually for a nice bounty from slaveholders. To elect Abraham Lincoln, it effectively took the Southern states to secede. Some of our most progressive constitutional amendments, including the 13th, 14th and 15th were possible only because Southern states were temporarily not part of government.

So the November 2020 election should not have been much of a surprise, nor the insurrection that occurred on January 6. We’ve been leading up to it for decades, but Donald Trump became the perfect poster child for the movement. It amounts to a refusal to follow the law and constitution when it gets too inconvenient.

It’s getting too inconvenient for Southern states. Joe Biden decisively defeated Donald Trump, despite extreme gerrymandering, despite extreme voter suppression and flipped a number of reliably red states like Georgia. Our republic just barely held it together on Inauguration Day. Lately, Republicans have refused to govern. Just yesterday they refused to a person to extend our debt limit, a limit they happily agreed to ignore for a few years when Donald Trump was president because they wanted those sweet tax cuts. Red states are trying hard to find more creative ways to ensure the 2020 election never happens again. In some states they’ve given the legislature permission to appoint different electors if they don’t like the way their citizens voted.

Some of their crazies are angling for a new civil war and are praying for a nice right-wing dictator to do away with our constitutional democracy, which is clearly hanging by a thread. In short, they seem to want to end our republic. They can’t abide with the idea of majority rule unless they are in the majority.

It’s all quite naked and dispiriting. Increasingly, I ask myself if there’s a way we could just have a nice, civil divorce. But I can’t see something like a gentleman’s agreement along the lines of Czechoslovakia splitting into the Czech and Slovak Republics. Southern states aren’t that civilized. Their idea of a civil divorce would be if they get everything, like all the nukes and armed forces. They would leave Blue states bankrupt. And that’s the best scenario.

It’s like trying to negotiate with a terrorist. That’s increasingly what these Southern states resemble. They believe in Barry Goldwater’s maxim that extremism in the defense of “liberty” is not a vice. Only their idea of liberty does not extend to non-whites, and increasingly not to women, at least over their reproductive rights.

The irony in all this is that if Democrats had sufficient backbone they probably could solve a lot of this problem, or at least put it in abeyance. Consider what could happen if two Democratic senators put the filibuster in abeyance just to pass a civil rights bill that ensured equal access to the vote to all citizens and impartially drawn congressional districts. But that of course would allow all voters to be equally enfranchised, something Senators Sinema and Machin don’t seem to want to do. At best they are naive. At worst they are acting as Republicans.

I do know I am tired of it and scared for our future. I have a feeling that ten years from now our nation will resemble nothing like what it resembles now, and it’s plenty bad now. It’s going to get much, much worse. I can feel it. So if there was a way to do a quickie divorce on states like Texas, Alabama and Mississippi, I’d be all for it. The “leaders” in these states are incorrigible,