On the Verge

Dear Senderoistas,

In the bar of our Bad Brothers restaurant in the middle of nowhere Argentina hangs a simple hand-written sign with the phrase, “Here We Are!”

It is a phrase my business partner and fellow horseman Agustin Lanus uses regularly, and which I have subsequently become fond of.

As I interpret it “Here we are!” celebrates the fact that out of a life time of seconds, minutes, hours, weeks, months and years we have arrived together at a specific place at a specific point in time to engage in some activity together.

Perhaps to share a meal, or a horse back ride, or even a run-of-the-mill business meeting.

An aficionado of zen might phrase it as being “in the moment”.

Regardless, to my way of thinking it embraces our time together and in so doing, reminds us to get the most out of it.

So, here we are

In today’s edition of Sendero my intention is to comment on a few topics of importance in the here and now, topics which I dearly hope will pass into insignificance before the end of this snakebit year.

And with that, and listening to the appropriately titled Times Like This by the Foo Fighters we move on.

Great News!

As I write we are waiting in a gilded cage on the side of a Vermont mountain to return to our life in Argentina.

Here in Vermont the fear of the coronavirus is persistent. The wearing of a mask in public is the law of the land and almost everyone wears masks, almost always and almost everywhere. Including, as mentioned in the last Sendero, even while hiking in the forest.

The sight of idiotically bemasked individuals driving in cars by themselves is not uncommon.

Meanwhile, the state imposes a long list of enforceable rules and regulations, including that restaurants cannot allow their occupancy to exceed 50% or allow patrons to conglomerate at the bar or face a per person fine of $500.

Want to visit the state? Unless you come from an approved zip code, there is a mandatory 14 day quarantine, though I suspect almost no one complies.

Against this background I recently mentioned to a couple of golf buddies my sense of relief that the state of Florida has lifted all coronavirus related regulations.

“What!?!” one of my parters gulped. “That’s so irresponsible it’s crazy!

Another of the fellows jumped into the fray, in full agreement that Florida’s action represented the soaring apex of irresponsible government.

Living in politically correct and deeply socialist Vermont I learned long ago to duck and weave to avoid completely fruitless arguments, and so did just that.

On the way home from the match I punched the button for Vermont Public Radio: it’s a game I like to play, guessing how many minutes it will be before the station runs a story attacking Trump. It’s rarely more than a few minutes.

On this particular day, I happened to tune in at the traditional newshour and was listening indifferently when the announcer stated matter-of-factly that, in the entire state of Vermont, there was only one person with coronavirus in hospital. And then casually added that the last c-virus death in the state was over two months ago.

My reaction was akin to one of those cartoon characters doing a neck-snapping double take. “What!??!!!”

On return home I researched the topic, certain I must have misheard the commentator. And, sure enough, the newscaster had his numbers wrong.

In actual fact, there currently isn’t a single coronavirus patient in any hospital in the entire state of Vermont.

Of course, one should always be careful to present data in appropriate terms, with per capita percentages being a good way to be sure you are comparing tangerines to tangerines.

In the last census Vermont had 645,000 souls as residents. So, a current hospitalization rate of 0 = .00000000000000000000000000000000000... to infinity as a percentage of the population.

And yet the state continues to suppress the economy, instill fear in the citizenry, and otherwise wreck havoc and trample basic freedoms.

The next day I went to my physical therapist for a pain in the neck I’ve been dealing with since my last cabalgata. As she is an agreeable sort, I popped the question.

“Out of curiosity, how many people in Vermont do you think are currently in the hospital with the coronavirus?”

“Gee, I’m not sure.”

“Would you believe the number is zero?”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. Look it up.”  (Here’s the link to the official state site).

“And when do you think the last person in Vermont died from the coronavirus?”

“It’s been awhile, yes?”

“July 24, that’s almost three months ago,” I answered confident in my data. “And did you know that since April 24, there have only been 10 deaths in the entire state? So, just a fraction over one death per month in the last six months from this so-called pandemic. This in a state where the normal morbidity rate is 17 people per day.”

“Well, I guess that means we’re doing a good job keeping it out!” She said happily.

“No, wha… wait!” I said, surprised at her answer. “Doesn’t that signify to you that this thing is over? That all these stupid masks and economy crushing regulations are for nothing? I mean, if zero deaths and zero people in the hospital aren’t sufficient to trigger a complete reopening of the economy, what metrics will be sufficient?”

To her credit, I saw in her eyes that the dime had dropped and, if nothing else, going forward she will reflect on the matter, which I guess is a start.

Because the reality is that while people with acute conditions should continue to take abundant care, at this point it seems to me that should be entirely left up to us as individuals to decide what level of risk we are willing to take.

Why couldn’t one restaurant appeal to the cautious by promoting its adherence to extreme social distancing policies, while another might chose promote their Saturday night mosh pit in an appeal to the young who don’t care and who are at no real risk?

Clearly, a person in regular contact with an at-risk individual might want to continue with the protocol of wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and so forth. And the at-risk person themselves would be well advised to take every precaution.

But for the life of me I can’t understand why otherwise young and healthy individuals shouldn’t be allowed to get on with their lives.

What about Florida? Given it’s older demographics, most would agree Florida is one of the most at-risk states. And, yes, unlike Vermont, it does have people in the hospital with coronavirus. At the moment, just a smidge over 2,000. Compared to a population of 22 million, that works out, on a per capita basis, .00009.

How about deaths, because that’s where the rubber really meets the road. The chart here is from the latest daily coronavirus death data available from the state of Florida.

Of course, one would like to see the daily run rate in Florida at zero, but it is again worth keeping the down-trending numbers in perspective by comparing them to the state’s population of 22,000,000, and the state’s skew toward older residents.

And I won’t even get into the discussion about the difference between dying from, and dying with, coronavirus which some analysts believes is artificially inflating the deaths.

So, is the governor of the state “crazy” or “irresponsible” for re-opening? Or, are we expected to embrace as the new normal isolation, fear and guaranteed government income for the unemployed masses?

While the data shows that there have been thousands of excess deaths in Florida, and other areas, like Arizona, with a larger population of the elderly and infirm, the virus is abating, and even WHO now acknowledges that shuttering the economy is not a feasible long-term solution.

“But the number of cases are going up again!” one hears. Sure, but that’s only because never before in history has there been mass testing for any seasonal disease. Which is why I think the only stats of any significance are hospitalizations and deaths.

Are they going up, or down? In most of the world, those two data sets are clearly trending down, and sharply so.

There is no thing as a risk-free life.

And advocating for a continued shutdown ignores the inevitable widespread blow back caused by ruined finances, towering government debt, delayed medical visits and procedures and the destruction wrought upon small businesses.

Toss onto that growing pile the precedent that has been set as relates to our personal freedoms, and we’re really talking about something.

The other day standing at the petrol pump Ii was reminded of a much smaller, but telling, instance of bad science and bad government. Do you remember when every gas pump in America sported signs requiring users to turn off their cell phones? You know, lest the electro-magnetic signals or whatever trigger an explosion?

Even though there wasn’t a single instance of a gas station fire being triggered by a cell phone, that didn’t stop the states from mandating no cell phones at gas pumps, and forcing the gas station owners to post warnings.

How does that happen?

While the coronavirus is, in fact, a real thing - one should never assume that the central planners will get things right.  Not when they so rarely do.

The Presidential Debate

I make no apologies for my preference of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Among my many reasons are his clear bias to withdraw troops from foreign adventures, reduce taxes and regulations, hold international trading partners accountable for trading practices, as well as his support for the commonsense notion that wanna-be immigrants into the US should follow some sort of procedure to assure they aren’t bad eggs, and that they have some chance at successfully integrating once here.

On the latter point, name a single country in the world that doesn’t require immigrants to go through an entry procedure? Yet, for some reason, this is a bone of contention according to the President’s sizable opposition.

I also like the fact that he is not a career politician, proof of which was provided early on with his confrontational interview with Megyn Kelly, at the time the darling of the Fox Network, the only network then even remotely supportive of his first-term run. You remember, the whole “blooding coming from her eyes” thing?

No career politician would dare to offend someone so potentially important to his chances, yet Trump did.

That said, by acting like a mad dog in the first debate I thought the President missed a yuge opportunity to (metaphorically) bury Biden. All he had to do with wait until Biden stumbled through his canned responses, and then attack.

The President’s staunchest defenders point out that Trump is clearly angry at everything he has been put through, and at the continued blatant character assassinations he has had to weather these past three plus terms.

And they are right to point out that the moderator, Chris Wallace, was actively trying to help the statist sock puppet on the other side of the stage. One of the most blatant examples of that bias came when Wallace asked Trump if he would, once and for all, condemn white supremacists, despite Trump and his spokespersons having done that repeatedly.

Interestingly, Chris Wallace asked that very same question in Trump’s debate against Hillary Clinton in 2016.  It took a bit to find the clip, but here it is.

You will note that, at that time, Trump did answer the question comprehensively. Therefore, by asking it again the only logical conclusion one can make is that Wallace was trying to wrong-foot Trump and score points for the opposition.

And, of course, Wallace wouldn’t have dreamed of asking the Democratic candidate about his son’s more-than-suspicious and obviously nepotistic Ukranian and Chinese ties.

So, yeah, Trump was ganged up and slandered and worse, but that doesn’t excuse his unattractive comportment, or get him off the hook for missing the opportunity to score big for the millions of his supporters who were relying on him to take Biden out by his wobbly knees.

If the next debate goes ahead as scheduled, one can only hope Trump curbs his enthusiasm or the many polls that have Biden winning could turn out to be correct.

In that event, those of you who haven’t already done so will need to be very fleet of foot to avoid getting crushed by the coming increase in taxes. We are making some personal financial adjustments “just in case”, certain in the knowledge that should Biden win any tax attorney worth even a little salt will have no capacity to take on new clients, at least through the end of the year.

Interestingly, and understandably, one of the reasons the tax experts are already overwhelmed with new business is due to the fact that - surprise, surprise - so many wealthy people are now scrambling to leave California and New York for friendlier tax regimes.

Government interference has always loomed large in virtually all corners of society, but if Biden wins, the smart bet is the one that prepares for the interference to get much worse.

A Couple of Asides

Aside #1:  Since we are chatting about Trump’s character, if you haven’t already watched Netflix’s show Trump: The American Dream, you owe it to yourself to watch at least the first three episodes.

While the show’s producers are clearly biased against Trump (natch), even they can’t cover up his remarkable achievements as a young man, pretty much turning around the fortunes of New York City, and then doing the same for Atlantic City.

What I found most interesting was that, despite the narrative that Trump's current demeanor is a sign he is losing his grip, you’ll see in the documentary that even when he was twenty-five years old he spoke exactly like he does today, i.e. bombastically. And even back then, he was never shy about going on full offense when attacked.

In other words, what you see, is what you get.

Aside #2: This morning a friend sent me a link to a video in which Rudi Giuliani details the significant case for abuse of office and outright corruption against the Biden family.

While I try not to pay much attention to these things, the presentation of the evidence is very interesting, and very damming. Here’s a link to it.

Of course, those in opposition to the president are quick to condemn Giuliani as a lap dog, and dismiss as fabricated the emails and photos on what is purported to be Hunter Biden’s discarded laptop.

Fair enough.

However, the accusations Giuliani makes are easy enough to fact check. For example, did Joe Biden’s brother get a contract to build military housing in Iraq, even though he had no experience in such an enterprise?

Did Hunter Biden get named to a high-paying position on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, despite having no relevant experience? And did Joe Biden cause the man prosecuting that very company to lose his job?

Likewise did a heavily connected Chinese firm give over a billion dollars to a money management firm Hunter Biden was a partner in?

I could go on, but you get the idea. These are the questions that an independent media would be scrambling to answer but, remarkably, are not.

Something is terribly broken in this country.

On the Verge

As anyone with a heartbeat is aware, these United States of America are currently suffering from small but loud infestations of low characters who loosely gather under the banners of Antifa or Black Lives Matter ostensibly protesting against widespread police brutality of African Americans.

Should Trump managed to pull off another upset win next month, you can expect the rioting to flare up to dangerous new levels.

One finds it interesting to note that when one of these thugs is hauled to account for acts of criminality ranging from assault with a thrown cabbage to actual murder they are not from a minority and they tend to already be in possession of criminal records of some length.

Which makes one wonder why a convicted white pedophile with a long history of break-ins and assaults decides one day to take up a social cause, presumably for the greater good?

A couple of possibilities march to mind.

First, and most likely, these are individuals who have time on their hands - as do so many in this c-virus economy - and by sheer happenstance, live in one of the pockets of urban unrest.

Any concentration of homo bobbinus will include a statistically significant number of ner-do-wells, sociopaths and a smattering of actual psychopaths. The fact that the urban centers are, by definition, thick with people brings that statistic to play in measurable numbers.

A small town, by contrast, may be burdened by only a few bad eggs whom the constabulary correctly looks to every time a crime other than jaywalking is committed. At no time would the few hard cases in a small town find the motivation to gather and, say, assault the attendees at the local farmer’s market.

Not so in dense urban centers such as Portland, Oregon which has been suffering a blight of trouble-making going on six months.

But where are the authorities, we ask? Where are the riot police practicing their truncheon work on the arsonists and brick throwers? Why are the jails not stuffed to the gills like the Black Hole of Calcutta? Why, even, are the thugs allowed not only to wreck havoc, but to do so while opening brandishing firearms?

In the current epoch, the leftists enjoy accusing the Trumponians of being fascists, and the President a dictator or, worse, a Nazi. Yet the feebleness of that claim is on display every night the riots are allowed to continue, mostly unchecked.

To state the obvious, which one should only do for emphasis, if Trump were the Nazi or addent facist as charged, the troublemakers would currently be nursing their wounds within razor wire enclosures.

Instead, following what one assumes is an all organic, probably vegan supper, the ironically named Antifa and their friends in the BLM are allowed to don their black outfits and makeshift armor, grab their spike-embedded baseball bats, and gather together to execute their next assault. One night a courthouse, the next a police station, the next a tony gentrified neighborhood: the possibilities in a target-rich environment urban areas such as Portland are nearly uncountable.

And the officialdom which was voted in or appointed to defend the life, liberty and property of the law abiding citizens from just the sort of thuggery on display night after night do pretty much nothing.

Sure, they throw up the occasional shield wall, but those serve much the same role as the fuzzy targets lined up for the ball toss at a seedy carnival; providing the bottle or brick throwers a target which, when struck, results in loud whooping with a round of back-patting for the tosser.

Which returns us to the question of “why”?

Why no wading in with billy clubs a-swinging? Why no high-pressure fire hoses blowing masks and bike helmets off the rioters at close range? And why, when a miscreant steps so far over the line that they find themselves arrested -- perhaps even for throwing a molotov -- are they back on the street the next day, often after posting no bail?

My guess is that the officials ostensibly in charge are engaging in a Chamberlinesque form of appeasement, the logic being that if they ignore the thugs the rioters will eventually grow tired of their nightly exertions and, perhaps with the return of a new season of The Boys or some such, will decide to stay home.

That loose jointed strategy could work, but it is more likely to trigger a response directionally opposite from that which is desired: encouraging the rioters to believe they’re winning; that the streets are theirs to do with as they wish; that their ‘cause’ is righteous and therefore deserves to spread to other urban centers.

We have already seen that happening, but will see a lot more of it should Trump win.

While the largely unchecked riots may seem to be mainly of local consequence, say to the poor schmo with the bad luck to have an auto parts or paint store across from the Portland courthouse, make no mistake there is national significance.

For one, while most of the populace, including those of the more liberal skew, may bite their lips and keep silent out of fear of themselves becoming a target in these violently politicized times, you can be sure they are watching the mayhem with more than a little concern.

Is this really the America they want to live in, that they want their children to grow up in? The answer is a resounding no, because if it was they could have already packed their bags and hied off to Mogadishu or some similarly unpleasant environ.

Given this quiet reflection, come November 3, at the same time that the Trumpians are stampeding to the nearest voting station, a sizable subset of anti-Trumpers may be a bit less enthusiastic about pulling the lever or punching the chad next to his opponents name and decide to stay home. After all, every instance of the urban unrest is occurring on staunchly Democrat soil.

Then there is the matter of the push-back, which we saw a flash of in Kenosha, WI when a young man, pursued by a mob despite being armed, and it turns out, quite skilled in combat operations, opened fire and permanently scratched two offenders off the rolls.

Soon thereafter, an unarmed white man was assassinated simply for displaying a slogan in support of the police on his personal garb, gunned down from behind without warning or cause other than political hate.

All of this, I fear, signals we are reaching an inflexion point where instead of calmer minds peering into the abyss and deciding to seek a path towards civility, we are approaching a tipping point where, like the Capulets and the Montague’s, or the Hatfields and the McCoys, all desire for dialogue is lost in the red haze of a blood feud.

I fear we are on the verge, that narrow border between civil society and anarchy, where on any given day a triggering event might be met tit for tat by the opposition, setting off the ultimate non-virtuous cycle of open violence.

The time for action has arrived. Not by citizen vigilantes, but by properly designated authority with a firm commitment of enforcing the laws required for any properly functioning state to exist.

Throw a brick at a policeman, expect a rubber bullet to the chest. Try to burn down a car lot, expect five to ten for arson. Attack an innocent bystander for being the wrong color or political affiliation, expect an ass whipping followed by a lengthy stint on a tin bed.

The apologists and media say the Feds should stay out of the local frays, and perhaps there is some legal justification for that opinion, but in the absence of action by local and state authorities, what other option is there than to call a national emergency and unleash the dogs of law on the seditionists?

More Asides…

Aside #3.  I find it interesting that my life journey has led me from energetically protesting against “the pigs” during the anti-Vietnam riots, to sitting here in the comfort of my living room encouraging a resurgence of law and order which has the police rolling up their sleeves and getting down to the business of cracking skulls.

The transformation, I would guess, has to do with the fact that today, at 66 years old, I have a lifetime of hard work behind me, and I think about all those entrepreneurs and regular folks being let down by their own government.

One day, they have a workable business, or a good job - no easy thing given the shutdown - and the next their windows are broken, their businesses looted, and a bunch of thugs and entitled brats are in command of the streets.

Or, a person who saves all their lives to buy a small house or apartment as an investment, only to find the neighborhood trashed and property values destroyed.

All the while as local and state governments remain oddly silent and disengaged.

These ruined businesses and property values are almost completely overlooked in the current discussion, and all but absent in the 24 hour news cycle… other than providing the graphic background for dramatic footage of burning buildings.

Creating and building a successful business is hard labor, and to see it destroyed as a night’s work of a bunch of thugs with zero moral foundation is a tragedy of the highest order.

Aside #4. Type in Antifa.com and see what comes up. Then also note that BLM, which was founded by three avowed communists, is one of the largest contributors to the Biden campaign. And you wonder why there’s no outrage about the thuggery?

Snippets

Hoisted on his own petard. Have you seen the story about the President of Princeton who, caught up in the narrative, went on record confessing that his university had engaged in systematic racism for decades? Unfortunately for his university, the government took him at his word.  Here’s a link to the story.

Hacking. I have previously mentioned the Cybersecurity ETF with the symbol of HACK as being one way to profit from the companies fending off the hackers running rampant in the new age of remote working. In the recent Wealth Preservation Symposium our company Mauldin Economics hosted for members of the Alpha Society, Kevin Packman of Holland & Knight (one of those overworked tax law firms) shared a document listing just some of the recent successful hacks against government and financial agencies. The list, which you can access here, is long.

I share it because taking steps to monitor your identity, and protect your family from the hackers are steps worth taking.

Farewell to a Dear Friend

I had the news yesterday that a dear friend, Jose Toscano, passed away from complications of the coronavirus. As with almost all the fatalities from this cursed virus, Jose had an underlying condition.

His passing is doubly sad because he was young, in his fifties, a happy and wonderful man who leaves behind a young family.

His passing caught me by surprise, and served as a painful reminder not to take the presence of our friends and loved ones for granted.

He will be greatly missed.

And on that somber note, I will sign off with my apologies for what turned out to be a rather long opinion piece.

Next time I write, which will hopefully be from Argentina after the US presidential elections, I promise to find more useful themes to share.

Until then, enjoy your life because, well, you just never know…

David






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