Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Anti-Mask League

The use of face masks in the battle against Covid-19 has been controversial from the beginning.

We were first told by the CDC and the Surgeon General that wearing face masks were not necessary.

That advice was reaffirmed by the Surgeon General on March 31 in an interview on Fox & Friends in which he stated he was confirming that the most current recommendation of both the WHO and CDC was for the the general public to not wear masks.

What the World Health Organization [WHO] and the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] have reaffirmed in the last few days is that they do not recommend the general public wear masks.

… On an individual level, there was a study in 2015 looking at medical students and medical students wearing surgical masks touch their face on average 23 times … We know a major way that you can get respiratory diseases like coronavirus is by touching a surface and then touching your face, so wearing a mask improperly can actually increase your risk of getting disease.

This still continues to be the guidance that is provided by many European countries.

Here are a few samples from the Scandinavian countries.





In April the CDC changed its view and recommended the use of face masks in settings where it is difficult to maintain social distancing and especially in areas with significant community transmission.

In June the WHO revised its recommendations and advised the use of face masks for those over age 60 or with underlying medical conditions in areas with community transmission of the virus and the use of masks by the general public where there is widespread transmission when social distancing is not possible (large crowds, public transit, etc). 

More and more states are mandating that face masks must be worn in public. North Carolina, Nevada and Washington all added this requirement last week.

There are now 18 states that have a face mask requirement.

1. California

2. Connecticut

3. Delaware

4. Hawaii

5. Illinois

6. Kentucky

7. Maine

8. Maryland

9. Massachusetts

10. Michigan

11. Nevada

12. New Jersey

13. New Mexico

14. New York

15. North Carolina

16. Pennsylvania

17. Rhode Island

18. Washington

The District of Columbia also requires face masks be worn in public.

Interestingly, all of these states have a Democrat governor except Massachusetts and Maryland. However, those are clearly blue states in almost every other instance.

Joe Biden also stated last week that he would make wearing a face mask compulsory if he was elected President.

What I find interesting in all of this is that the face mask issue seems to have become more a political issue that anything else.

All of the Democrat governors and Joe Biden claim that they are following science in requiring the use of face masks.

However, the science was exactly the opposite a couple of months ago.

Controversy surrounding the use of face masks in a pandemic is nothing new.

It was also very controversial in the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918/19. You would think that after over 100 years the science would be settled a little better.

For example, San Francisco was very aggressive in mandating face masks in the early stages of the Spanish Flu pandemic in the Fall of 1918. Fines and jail time were used to enforce the mandate.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco had the mandate in place for about a month in October and November of that year and it made it through the first wave of the flu in fairly good shape compared to most cities.

However, when the mandate ended people threw away their masks and went back to their normal lives very quickly thinking that the masks had protected them.

By December the city started seeing new cases and people put on their masks again. The city instituted another mandate in January but many people rebelled at that time. An "Anti-Mask League" was formed by a number of influential citizens, physicians and even some of the city's Board of Supervisors who had put the mask mandate in place to begin with.

Source: Sand Francisco Chronicle

On January 25, 1919 4,500 people gathered in a skating rink hosted by the league (presumably without masks) designed to put an end to the law regarding face mask.

The law was rescinded a week later as infections started to fall.

However, when the final numbers were totaled, San Francisco had ended up with one of the worst death rates of major U.S. cities even though it had a mandatory face mask requirement and most other cities did not.

These results caused the secretary of the California State Board of Health to examine why face masks failed in lowering the infection rate in San Francisco despite their widespread use. He ultimately found five key reasons that they did not achieve the intended result.

1. Poor quality homemade masks
2. Masks gave people a false sense of security
3. People wore their masks incorrectly
4. People wore their masks outside in public but did not wear them indoors in private offices or with gatherings of friends. Infectious droplets are more likely to be dispersed indoors in contained spaces than in large ventilated spaces.
5. Gauze was the favored fabric for medical uses a century ago but later experiments showed that it was not very effective against respiratory droplets.

I would like to think we have advanced the science in 100 years but the same concerns seem to be  mentioned today (with the exception of gauze face masks) that were listed as reasons that face masks did not prove that effective in controlling the virus then.

The CDC recently announced that they may soon be updating their guidance on masks based on additional research studies. It will be interesting to see what they have will have to say next on the subject.

A positive story on mask wearing came out of Missouri at the end of May where two hair stylists who had Covid-19 came into close contact with 140 clients. All wore masks (as did the stylists) and none became sick. 

The research I have seen suggests that masks are much more effective in stopping an infected person from infecting someone else than it does preventing a healthy person who is wearing a mask from catching the virus. That is because masks are more effective at blocking large respiratory droplets at the source which then separate and become smaller in the air. Masks are not as effective at blocking these smaller droplets which may infect a healthy person wearing the mask.

Let's put the Covid-19 virus in context to understand what we are up against. Simone Gold is a physician and lawyer who recently wrote an op-ed for USA Today questioning the usefulness of masks.

The Covid virus was supposed to be contained in the kind of lab where people wear astronaut suits and go through triple sealed doors. It is a con of massive proportion to assert that now, having escaped those environs, a bandana will magically do the trick. 
After all, size matters. 
The pore size of cloth face coverings range from ~ 20-100 microns.   The Covid virus is 200-1000x smaller than that, at 0.1 microns. Putting up a chain link fence will not keep out a mosquito. Even the most esteemed medical journals admit their purpose is to calm anxiety. “Expanded masking protocols’ greatest contribution may be to reduce the transmission of anxiety …” 

You can see from everything above that, much like almost everything to do with Covid-19, there is a lot that is not well understood about the usefulness of face masks. There certainly is no settled science.

Am I a member of the 2020 version of The Anti-Mask League?


I think that a face covering can be helpful in certain circumstances. I typically wear one when I go into a store that I know will be crowded. I figure it can't hurt for a limited time. Something is probably better than nothing. I also don't want to suggest that I don't care about anyone else's welfare.

However, I question the value of wearing it over long periods of time. It simply cannot be healthy to restrict your breathing that way. Wearing the mask for longer periods also greatly increases the chances you are going to be touching it or your face in trying to adjust the mask. That is undoubtedly the worst thing anyone can do if they do not want to catch the virus.

I can't count how many times I have seen someone wearing a mask (often a store worker) who has it pulled down so it covers their mouth but not their nose. The same for people who are constantly adjusting it.

I also see no value whatsoever in wearing a mask outside. Or in a car driving alone. I see people walking alone with no one around wearing a mask and I see people with a mask on with no one else in the car. I don't understand it.

Public health experts have done a great disservice to their profession and the public with the conflicting and changing recommendations they have made since we first found out about Covid-19. That is a big reason that politics seems to be dictating public health policy on masks rather than sound science. Of course, had President Trump pushed hard for mandatory use of masks in the beginning I have no doubts that the Democrats and the media would be on the other side of the issue. He would have been called an authoritarian tyrant if he had.

I can't help but also wonder about the conflicting messages that are being sent by the authorities in many states.

For example, how can any state that has a mandatory face mask requirement allow their restaurants and bars to be open? Is it not physically impossible to eat or drink with a mask on? 

Consider this report last week from Michigan which is a mandatory face mask state.

Source: https://www.insider.com/michigan-harpers-restaurant-coronavirus-cases-self-quarantine-2020-6

If there is a mandatory mask requirement it seems that it has to follow that bars and restaurants must not be open in that same state or locality.

A recent analysis by JP Morgan seems to support the view that restaurants are a key vector in the transmission of the virus in states that have reopened. Restaurant spending was the strongest indicator across all credit card spending categories in being correlated with a rise in cases in a state.

JPMorgan analyzed data from 30 million Chase cardholders and Johns Hopkins University’s case tracker and found that higher restaurant spending in a state predicted a rise in new infections there three weeks later.

In-person restaurant spending was “particularly predictive.”

Conversely, higher spending at supermarkets predicted a slower spread of the virus.

I am also starting to wonder if we will soon see an Anti-Mask League forming again in California after I saw this headline over the weekend. It seems that customers don't like wearing a mask when they are in a restaurant to eat. I wonder why?

Source: SFGate.com

We don't need politics defining everything that affects our lives.

Mandating face masks would not be necessary if people were really convinced that their health, public safety and the economy would all benefit from their use.

I can only hope that the public health experts can do a better job of quantifying the science and, more importantly, being more effective in their messaging to the public.

The fact that this is not the case tells you all you need to know.

It was true in 1919. It is still true in 2020.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Navigating the Curve

The headlines over the past week have been about the explosion of Covid-19 cases in a number of states.

The states that seem to be most prominently mentioned are Arizona, Florida and Texas.

However, cases have been rising in states such as California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Georgia, South Carolina and Oklahoma as well.

What are we to make of this?

The popular narrative is that this is due to these states opening up too soon. 

Is this accurate?

Let's look at some data.

First, I thought that this heat map prepared by @kylamb8 was interesting in showing the counties with the highest increase in Covid-19 cases for the 21-day period ending June 23. Counties in red are experiencing the highest case growth compared to the national averages.

Notice the large increase in cases in the Sunbelt and and near the Mexican border.

Mexico has seen a massive increase in cases.

Is it a coincidence that a number of the hot spots are close to the Mexican border or who have a lot of migrants living there?

Look at the numbers at border counties compared to other counties in Arizona and California.

Another interesting fact I recently came across is that CDC data indicates that Hispanics make up 43% of all cases of Covid-19 between the ages of 18 and 50. This is the chart for ages 30-39 but a similar distribution is shown for ages 18-29 and 40-49. Hispanics are about 18% of the overall USA population.

Source: CDC

This chart shows what is happening in Mexico. It had a 49.4% positivity rate  on tests yesterday.

These numbers are also probably vastly understated as Mexico is doing very little testing. The United States is conducting 22 times the number of tests as Mexico is per thousand people.

You can also see from this chart that there is no country that comes close to the United States in the number of tests . This undoubtedly is partly responsible for the higher number of confirmed cases.

What is interesting, but is largely being ignored by the media, is that while the cases are increasing across the country at large the death rate from Covid-19 continues to fall.

These charts from The New York Times tell the story in one image.

New cases and the 7-day average are hitting new highs.

However, the 7-day average in deaths is the lowest it has been since March 31.

Why is this?

Is the virus weakening?

Are we do do a better job in treating Covid-19?

Is this due to the fact that infections now are occurring in younger demographics?

New cases over most of the country are coming from younger age groups. A lot these are also now being picked up because of increased testing.

For example, in Florida the median age of confirmed cases has dropped from age 65 in April to around age 40. New cases over the last several weeks are seeing a median age of between 33-35.

Here is the most recent distribution of cases in Florida by age group.

Source: Florida Department of Health, 6/28/20

Let's take a closer look at the Florida numbers as I think it is instructive as to what is happening in some of the other hot spot states right now.

Cases are up substantially.

Source: https://tallahasseereports.com/2020/06/27/two-charts-show-positive-trends-for-florida-in-coronavirus-battle/

However, hospitalizations are at about the same level as in April.

Source: https://tallahasseereports.com/2020/06/27/two-charts-show-positive-trends-for-florida-in-coronavirus-battle/

Deaths are also down from their peaks and have been remarkably stable over the last month

Source: https://tallahasseereports.com/2020/06/27/two-charts-show-positive-trends-for-florida-in-coronavirus-battle/

Governor Ron DeSantis recently acknowledged that Florida is seeing more confirmed cases but that the younger age group it is coming from means far less acute cases that are putting less pressure on the health infrastructure in the state.

"If you had a thousand cases under the age of 30," he said, "that would have (less) clinical significance than if you had 15 cases among residents of a long-term care facility."

It is probably no coincidence that the mainstream media is putting all of the focus on cases but is not reporting much on the trends in hospitalizations and deaths. 

The media has seemed to be particularly interested in any negative reports coming from Florida since DeSantis was slow to lockdown his state as well as earlier in opening it up.

The Governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut recently announced that they were going to quarantine anyone from Florida and other so-called "hot spots" to quarantine for 14 days if entering New York.

However, have you seen anyone report that New York and New Jersey are still reporting more deaths from Covid-19 in recent days than we are seeing in Florida?

For example, here are the total deaths reported for the three states over the last two days (June 26 and 27) according to the New York Times Covid-19 database.

Florida           63
New Jersey    76
New York       76

This chart suggests that Florida has a long way to go before it gets anywhere close to New Jersey let alone New York which actually has worse numbers.

Has the reopening contributed to the new cases in Florida and elsewhere?

There has to be some correlation but it was well over a month from the reopenings in Florida before there was any appreciable increase in cases (see Florida chart above). That is a long time considering a virus that has a 5-day average incubation period. Why didn't the cases increase earlier?

Let's look at Texas which is another state that the media likes to highlight.

Cases were actually trending down in the last two weeks of May even though the state started opening up on May 1. If the reopenings are responsible for the increase in cases why didn't those increases start in May?

What happened near the end of May that could have had an effect?

Memorial Day gatherings?

A whole bunch of street protests?

Look at the increase in cases in Houston, Texas (Harris County) over the last two weeks.

The 7-day average has increased from 313 to 1,184 per day over the last 14 days.

Could these events have something to do with those numbers?

March for George Floyd, June 2, 2020

George Floyd funeral in Houston, June 9, 2020

These events very well could have had an effect on the cases we are seeing now but you don't see anyone suggesting that.

It also could be the heavy ties that Houston has to the Mexican community.

Finally, I am also wondering if the beginning of summer has driven more people indoors in seek of air conditioning and this has contributed to the rise of cases across the Sunbelt.

It is curious that cases have generally decreased in the Northeast and Midwest as more people left their homes and got more outside air and sun but cases have increased in the Sunbelt as rising heat levels has caused more people stay indoors.

What do I make of all of this? Is there cause for alarm with the increased cases?

I generally see all of this as part of the original arguments we heard about flattening the curve.

We were told that we had to flatten the curve. If we did not do that our hospitals would be overwhelmed and hundreds of thousands might die due to lack of care.

Flattening the curve does not mean any fewer people will get the virus. It just spreads out the time period over which people get infected. It also does not decrease the numbers who will naturally die from the virus. It primarily only prevents those who would die who could have otherwise been saved with hospital intervention if those resources were not overwhelmed.

An additional benefit of flattening the curve is that it does provide time for the development of better treatment protocols and care standards as we learn more about the virus as well as buying time for the possible development of a vaccine.

The areas under the yellow curve and blue curve (representing the number of cases) are the same.

If that is the case it can certainly be argued that what we are seeing right now is exactly a result of flattening the curve. 

Cases that we might have seen in March and April have been pushed into June due to the economic lockdowns. Some of this was expected. What was not expected was that thousands would be taking to the streets as well without considering any social distancing protocols.

There also seems to be a natural point at which the virus starts to die out. Nothing goes on forever. Most of the states that had high case loads early have now died down. Most of the states with high case loads today had relatively few cases earlier.

There is natural cycle in play here that has been seen worldwide.

Here are the charts on a number of major countries that shows the rise and fall of virus cases in these nations.

Source: https://www.endcoronavirus.org/countries

These are remarkably similar with the exception of China in which no one is sure we can trust their numbers.

Some have stated they believe this is the case because the virus appears to have difficult in spreading once it reaches 15-20% prevalence in a community. This is because it is believed that a substantial number already have some type of immunity due to past exposure to "common cold" coronaviruses. This might be as high as 70%-80%.

Many of these countries would also be similar to the size of the various states (based on both population and geographic size) in the United States. These states could almost be viewed as similar to various countries in Europe.

Look at the charts for some of the states that had the worst case experience a month or two ago and have now improved. They look very similar to the countries above.

Compare those charts to some of the states that we are now seeing increasing cases. Is it just their turn? Is it necessary for them to get to the 15-20% level before these curves turn down in these states as well?

Seeing the age distribution of the cases, the fairly flat hospitalization rates and the declining mortality rates, I am more optimistic than pessimistic about where we are in navigating the curve right now.

We will learn more as we navigate the curve some more.

However, despite what the media is trying to sell. I do not see undue cause for concern right now considering everything I am seeing in the new "hot spot" states.

This just seems to be the way we have to navigate the curve.

The nature of any curve is that you come around a turn at some point. There is a turn ahead in the new hot spot states as well. The cases we are seeing now suggests that it is approaching more rapidly than it might have otherwise due to what is happening in Mexico and what has happened on our streets over the last month.

Stay informed. Stay strong. Stay safe.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

No Chiefs. No Masters. No Sense.

You think it cannot get any crazier and the next day proves you wrong.

They are tearing down statues of Christopher Columbus.

George Washington.

U.S. Grant.

They want to topple this statue of Abraham Lincoln freeing a slave that is in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C.

It was actually paid for by freed slaves in appreciation of what Lincoln had done to end slavery and the oppression of Blacks.  It was dedicated in 1876 by the famous African-American Frederick Douglass.

Some have actually called for the removal of the Washington Monument in the nation's capital.

Protestors already threatened the Lincoln Memorial and put graffiti on the outer plaques of that landmark.

This resulted in the necessity to do this to guard the monument in early June.

Some have wondered how it was that we could see this in the United States?

Have they considered the oath of office that every federal public official and employee (except the President) swears upon taking office.

I have put in bold letters an important point that many seem to be missing. There is a clear recognition that we may also be faced with domestic enemies that do not want to abide by the Constitution.

This oath is in federal law at 5 US Code Section 3331.

"I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

The President takes a separate oath that is actually more general and is specifically enumerated in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution.

 "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

We then have those things that are not physically destructive but which you have to wonder about.

HBO has taken Gone With The Wind off its viewing list.

33,000 people have signed a petition urging the Columbus, Ohio city council to change the name of the city to Flavortown. Why Flavortown? Guy Fieri hails from Columbus and he uses that term to refer to his fictional food utopia.

Let's see, who should we name the city after? The man who discovered the New World or a guy who has hosted a few shows on The Food Network? That is a really close call.

What is really scary that those 33,000 people have one vote just like you and I do. Actually some of them may have two votes when mail-in ballots are considered.

The Mayor of Duluth, Minnesota is urging its city council to remove the word "chief' from job titles, calling the term offensive to indigenous people.

I guess one advantage to getting rid of the police department is that you won't have to form a committee to determine the alternative title to "Police Chief".

I imagine it won't be long before some "progressive" corporations show how woke they are by following suit. No Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer or Chief Information Officer.

A sportswriter is now even calling for The Masters golf tournament to be renamed.

The name “The Masters” must go.

The heralded golf tournament, one of the four majors, needs to go back to its original name — the Augusta National Invitational. It became the Masters in 1939.

And be honest. When you hear anyone say the Masters, you think of slave masters in the South. There’s nothing else, nothing special. You don’t think of someone mastering the game of golf. When has anyone mastered golf?

Let me be honest. I have never thought of slave masters when it came to The Masters golf tournament. 

Not once.

I have always thought of it as the tournament played by the masters of the game of golf. 

The truth is that Clifford Roberts, who founded the Augusta National Golf Club with the legendary golfer Bobby Jones, wanted to call the tournament they created "The Masters" from the very beginning. The tournament was created in 1934 as a means to try to promote and market memberships in the club which were hard to sell in the middle of the Great Depression.

It may be hard to believe it today but they had trouble selling memberships to Augusta National in the early 1930's with an initiation fee of $350 and monthly dues of $5 per month.

Jones did not like the idea of using the name "The Masters" because he thought it was too "presumptuous" and immodest as he thought people might think that he chose the tournament name to honor himself. Does that sound like there was even a hint of racism when the name was selected?

Bobby Jones eventually relented a few years later as golfers and fans had been referring to it as "The Masters" informally from when the tournament was first played. 

There is a lot of great history and background about the founding of Augusta National Golf Club, The Masters, Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones in this book which I read about 20 years ago. I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the game.

That is where I found that tidbit on the original initiation fee and dues for the club.

Of course, we don't just have golf tournaments that use the word masters.

We have Master's degrees in colleges.

We have Master Plumbers and Master Electricians.

We have Master Sergeants in the Army. And Master Chiefs in the Navy.

Master bedrooms and baths.

We even have MasterCard.

Do all these have to go as well?

The problem we have right now is that when everything is viewed as racist then it soon becomes difficult to recognize when something really is racist.

A few examples.

A garage rope in a NASCAR garage of an African American driver is seen as racist despite the fact that the rope had been there for six months before the driver moved into the garage.

Ropes in a park in Oakland were seen as racist although the ropes were put up by an African American for exercise regimes.

What is reported to be a rope resembling a noose found at a hospital in Michigan was not the hate crime that was reported but a practice knot tied by a fisherman.

With reference to hate crimes, although you almost never see it reported, the fact is that in the United States if you are Jewish or Muslim you are more likely to be a victim of a hate crime than if you are Black.

Hate Crime Incidents per 1 million population per FBI 2018 Hate Crime Statistics using current Census Bureau population estimates for minority groups. There are 50% more anti-Jewish than Black hate crimes. 

Jewish     69.6
Muslim    53.7
Black        47.4
Asian         8.7
Hispanic   8.5

Tearing statues down, defacing monuments and changing names that have made their own history separate from the original origins of the name? 

It makes no sense.

I can assure you that taking down a Lincoln statute, having a Flavortown, Ohio or changing the name of The Masters to the Augusta National Invitational is not going to make one bit of difference in solving the problem of racism.

Why don't we actually focus on those things that will actually do something to advance race relations?

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

A More Perfect Union

One of the most popular terms that you hear today is "systemic racism".

It was a phrase that you almost never heard until recently as evidenced by this Google trends analysis over the last ten years.

The term did not even seem to appear at all until about five years ago.

What is systemic racism? It is considered to be racism practiced on a grand scale that is ingrained into every aspect of society---individual, institutional and culturally.

It differs from racism that is individually based. It appears the argument is that when you have systemic racism it is so pervasive that everything in society is stacked against those that are subject to that form of racism. Therefore, it is impossible for any member of that race to be treated fairly.

This means that literally everything in society is racist. The police department. The justice system. The educational system. The political system. It doesn't matter if 58% of the police officers in the Atlanta police department are Black. It doesn't matter if the judge and jurors on a trial are Black. It doesn't matter if the school board members are all minorities. It doesn't matter if the President is African American. The racism is rooted in the very existence of these institutions and their foundations rather than just limited to the racial attitudes of individuals. 

Why has this term suddenly become popular now? Systemic racism clearly was much more pervasive and widespread going back 100, 50, 25 or 5 years compared to today. Why are we only hearing this term now?

There is little question that more can and should be done about racism but is it fair to say that little progress has been made from where we once were?

Look at what the liberal Brookings Institution has written about on this subject in an article "Black Progress: How far we've come and how far we have to go".

That article begins this way.
Let's start with a few contrasting numbers.
60 and 2.2. 
In 1940, 60 percent of employed black women worked as domestic servants; today the number is down to 2.2 percent, while 60 percent hold white- collar jobs.

44 and 1.  
In 1958, 44 percent of whites said they would move if a black family became their next door neighbor; today the figure is 1 percent.

18 and 86.
In 1964, the year the great Civil Rights Act was passed, only 18 percent of whites claimed to have a friend who was black; today 86 percent say they do, while 87 percent of blacks assert they have white friends.

Progress is the largely suppressed story of race and race relations over the past half-century. And thus it’s news that more than 40 percent of African Americans now consider themselves members of the middle class. Forty-two percent own their own homes, a figure that rises to 75 percent if we look just at black married couples. Black two-parent families earn only 13 percent less than those who are white. Almost a third of the black population lives in suburbia.

It might surprise you to learn that those words were written in 1998. Since that time we have also elected an African American President of the United States twice. An African American led the U.S. Justice Department for eight years under President Obama. African Americans have increasingly been elected to leadership roles in many of the nation's urban areas and they also are in charge of a number of the police departments in major U.S. cities.

Considering this progress it is harder to make the argument that the American people are racists. Is this why we are now hearing more about systemic racism?

Does much more still need to be done about racial equity? Absolutely. However, when terms like "systemic racism" are thrown around it seems to ignore how much progress has been made.

In many respects I understand the frustration that more progress has not been made. That is particularly true in looking at the last two decades since the words above were written.

African American earnings are about in the same economic position they were in 20 years ago. The previous 20 years showed more substantial progress.

However, over half of African Americans today are solidly in the middle class or higher. That number was barely one-third in 1967.

Median income for a married-couple Black family is $75,000 per year.  However, this still trails white couples by about 15%.

Black homeownership is 41% but that is lower than it was 15 years ago.

Business ownership among Blacks still lags other minorities in the economy. This chart is based on 2012 Census Bureau surveys so it is dated. However, information for 2018 that was recently released shows similar relationships between the three major minority groups.

What stands out to me in this graphic is the difference in Asian and Black owned businesses.

Asians were once stereotyped as uneducated and fit only for hard labor or domestic duties. Products from Asia were derided as nothing more than cheap junk. Those stereotypes no longer exist. They have literally been turned on their head. The number of Asian-owned businesses is one of many reasons for this. 

The educational attainment of Asians in the United States is another reason.  

Today, students in high school and college cringe when they see Asian-Americans entering their classrooms on the first day of class. American businesses have learned some hard lessons from their Asian counterparts. The old stereotype is gone and has been replaced with another one.  That change did not occur because people just started to think differently one day.  It changed because people were forced to change their thinking because of what they experienced and the behaviors and results they saw from greater and greater numbers of Asians they came in contact with day in and day out.

Many Asian American students today face a different kind of racism. Their numbers are limited at many elite educational institutions because too many are achieving at high levels of academic success.

There is nothing wrong with confronting racism and challenging the societal factors that might be involved. However, most of the energy of the African American community about this problem seems to be only directed outwards. I don't see enough energy also devoted to looking inward for solutions to the problem as well.

There will be no change in bias in the system until the systemic problems in the Black community are also addressed. Poverty is at the root of the problem but that is a function of too many children born out of wedlock, too many high school dropouts and too many drugs and gangbangers on the streets.

Where are the voices talking about the nearly seven out of ten African American children born out of wedlock? Where are the voices decrying the culture among black youths that seems to glorify drugs and violence? Where are the voices speaking out about the fact that only 73 percent of African Americans are graduating from high school within four years? Where are the voices about the inner city murders in Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis and other urban centers that have been going on for years? 14 were fatally shot in Chicago this weekend including a 3-year old boy.

In addition, how does seeing masses of black youths breaking windows and looting stores going to contribute to breaking down bias and racism in our society? 

It is also interesting that despite the fact that we are hearing so much about systemic racism in the United States we have never seen so many people from countries that have Black-majority populations immigrating to the United States. 

Why is that?

There are now 5.3 million foreign born Blacks who have immigrated and live in the United States today. That represents 12.3% of the total Black population in the United States. The comparable percentage of Whites born outside of the United States--4.2% 

In 1980 there were less than 1 million Blacks who were foreign-born in the United States.

There over 2 million immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa in the United States today from countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana and Somalia.

That is almost an 8-fold increase since 1990.

Source: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/sub-saharan-african-immigrants-united-states

There has also been a massive influx of Black immigrants from Caribbean countries such as the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Guyana. This chart shows that growth.

You might ask why the trend line from Guyana has moderated compared to the other countries above? It would seem to be based on the fact that Guyana only has a total population of 770,000 today. Over 280,000 people from Guyana have already immigrated to the United States. Half of that total is living in New York City alone.

You might also notice in the chart of educational attainment above that Black immigrants have a higher level of educational attainment than native born Blacks.

Why do these people want to come to a country in which systemic racism is so intractable? Why would they want to live as a minority in the United States if the oppression and the lack of opportunity is so pervasive?
Black Lives Matter seems to believe that the systemic racism in the United States is such that it can only be changed by literally tearing up the foundations of our nation by the roots.

What we see in the immigration data suggests that the United States has gotten more things right than any other country in the history of the world.

Our Founders set out "to form a more perfect union" when the nation was conceived. It was not perfect then. It was not perfect in the Civil War era or a hundred years after that. It is not perfect now. However, part of the American experience has been to continue to strive and work everyday to form an even  more perfect union.

The question that the American people need to answer is whether we believe that this is better achieved by tearing things down and casting blame on others or building on the positives, working cooperatively to fix the negatives and all of us spending more time looking inwards on what we can do to improve the lives of everyone.

One of the great privileges conferred to us by the Founders was the absolute right to answer that question. The American people were given the right to control their own destiny like no others before them.

The American people can literally makeover every aspect of their government in no more than four years time at the local and state levels. They can turnover the entire House of Representatives at the federal level and one-third of the U.S Senate in just two years. They can elect a new President and replace another one-third of the Senate within four years. A complete overhaul is possible in six years unless the U.S. Supreme Court and our courts do not adhere to the Constitution and try to stand in the way of the will of the people

This is the way we are supposed to seek a more perfect union. There is absolutely no excuse for mob rule, anarchy, insurrection and destruction of public and private property in order to seek change.

Seeing the events of the last month I can't help think about the story about what Benjamin Franklin said to a woman who questioned him as he was leaving the Constitutional Convention.

The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, "A republic, if you can keep it."

I have no doubt we can continue to get closer to a more perfect union if a solid majority still believes in that Constitution and what it stands for.

If not, we may find how difficult it is to keep the republic and the union that has given so much, to so many, over the last 230 years. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Toppling Statues Today. What About Tomorrow?

The anarchists have had a busy week.

They tore down a statue of George Washington in Portland, Oregon.

Credit: KGW-TV

In San Francisco, they toppled a statue of Francis Scott Key, and Father Junipero Serra, and vandalized a statue of Cervantes. Cervantes was an interesting choice as he never even set foot in the Americas and was enslaved himself by the Barbary Pirates.

Credit: Marin Independent Journal

The anarchists also toppled the statue of Ulysses S. Grant who led the Union army in the Civil War which ended slavery.

Grant was also a two-term President who was aggressive in protecting Blacks in the South from the KKK and helped to secure voting rights for Blacks in the South after the Civil War ended.

It didn't take the anarchists to remove the statue of Teddy Roosevelt from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City or the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus, Ohio. That was done by those who hold the power over such things in those cities.

If you don't think things can get much crazier consider that city officials in Boston are considering calls to remove this statue of Abraham Lincoln which depicts Lincoln freeing those enslaved.

Credit: Boston Globe

It is probably an even money bet right now whether Yale University retains its name. Yale was named for benefactor Elihu Yale who was a British slave trader who helped establish the university with his donations.

It makes you wonder how much has to change if we follow this to its natural extension?

As Sharyl Attkisson says on Twitter, "we're going to need a bigger eraser".

Of course, this isn't really about about toppling statues against racism. This is about people who want to topple the United States of America. Don't mistake the real agenda going on here.

Were it not for Ulysses S. Grant the nation might have been toppled long ago.

I wrote about Grant in these pages back in 2012. Those that toppled his statue would be wise to know more about him. 

Grant was a billing clerk in a store in Galena, Illinois at the start of the Civil War. Three years later he was the Commanding General of the Union Army. Eight years later he was President of the United States. President Lincoln never even personally met Grant until March 2, 1864, when he promoted him to Lieutenant General in charge of the entire Union Army.

Grant was actually one year younger than Barack Obama was when he took the oath of office as President. That is pretty incredible when you think about it. One of the reasons that Grant seems like he was so much older is that he had effectively lived four lifetimes before he ever became President. Grant had literally seen it all in both his personal experiences and in the decisions he had to make as a leader.

There is no doubt that Barack Obama faced challenges growing up as a young African American in this country. Read what I wrote about Ulysses Grant and you will see he had to endure a pretty tough road in his own right.

You can see there were plenty of good reasons that people believed that Grant deserved to be honored with that statue in San Francisco. The same goes for those other statues. Statues are not erected with fleeting emotions. Why do those who take them down believe that they have the right to erase our history so cavalierly?

Where is our U.S. Grant?
(originally published December 26, 2012)

I just finished reading Jean Edward Smith's biography of Ulysses S. Grant.  He was a remarkable man. There is little doubt that if it were not for Grant and Lincoln we most likely would not have saved the Union. Grant was also a very underrated President.

What struck me most in reading the book were the vast differences in life experiences when comparing Barack Obama to U.S. Grant before they were elected President of the United States. Grant was actually one year younger (age 46) than Obama when he took office.  However, Grant seemed to have had three lifetimes of experiences before he ever set foot in the White House.

Born in Point Pleasant, Ohio in 1822, from an early age Grant had an enduring affinity for horses. He had an uncanny ability to train horses and his riding skills were unsurpassed. When he was at West Point he was considered one of the greatest riders ever at the Academy. It was about the only area in which he excelled at the U.S Military Academy.  He finished 21st among 39 who graduated in 1843.  He ranked 28th in infantry tactics.

He saw combat in the Mexican-American War in which he was away from home (and his fiance, Julia) for almost three years. He married Julia in 1848 and stayed in the Army only to be ordered to California in 1852. Julia was 8 months pregnant with their second child and could not make the long trip to San Francisco which entailed a steamship voyage from New York to Panama, an overland trek across Panama and another steamer to San Francisco.

700 soldiers and their dependents embarked on the journey but only about half made it to San Francisco two months after they left New York.  A cholera epidemic ravaged the group as it transgressed Panama. All twenty children younger than three died on the journey. While most of the orderlies refused to care for the sick because of their fear of contracting the disease themselves, it was Grant who undertook the nursing of the ill himself.

Grant spent another two years in California without his wife and family. In his spare time he dabbled in numerous side business ventures attempting to make enough money to bring his young family to live with him. The California Gold Rush was in full swing and everyone seemed to be cashing in on the action in some way. Everyone but Grant. 

Grant lost money on almost every venture he attempted. His loneliness and bad luck eventually led him to rely too much on the bottle. He resigned his officer's commission (many speculate he was forced to resign because he was drinking on duty) and headed home without enough money in his pocket to make the entire trip home to St. Louis which entailed retracing his previous path across Panama and by ship to New York.

He arrived in New York City with no money, and not even sure that his wife would want him to return to her parent's home in St. Louis. He borrowed money from an old friend to pay his hotel bill in New York and waited to hear from Julia. He eventually had to ask his father for the train fare home and a letter arrived from his wife welcoming him home with open arms.

Grant was 32 years of age when he left the Army. He spent the next four years working a 60 acre farm near St. Louis on land that his wife had received from her father as a wedding present. He never succeeded at farming. Most of the money he made was selling cords of wood he would cart into St. Louis. He eventually had to look for work in St. Louis. He tried real estate and other jobs but he was not successful in any endeavor in the world of commerce.  He could not afford to have his family with him in the city and lived in a boarding house during the week. He walked twelve miles on Saturdays to see his wife and children and walked twelve miles back to St. Louis each Sunday. 

In 1860, at age 38, he eventually faced the inevitable, swallowed his pride, and asked his father for a job. His father had a leather business that had prospered over the years and he operated a half dozen retail outlets in the upper Mississippi River valley.  He gave Ulysses a job as a billing clerk and collection agent in his Galena, Illinois store.  Grant moved to Galena about one year before the start of the Civil War.

With this background you begin to see how incredible the story of Ulysses S. Grant is. Within four years of his move to Galena to take a job as a billing clerk, he was General of the Union Army. Within eight years he was President of the United States.

What made Grant successful?  First, he was not afraid to engage.  Except for Grant, most of the Union's field commanders were unwilling or unable to take the fight to the enemy. Grant knew that to win you had to be on the offensive. Second, he led from the front and was cool under fire. He took reversals in stride and often looked to take a disadvantage and turn it into an advantage.  Third, he was unassuming, honest and considerate.  Grant always put his country and men first.  He was as honest as they come and he always treated his enemies with the utmost of respect.

It is indeed sobering to read about the life and times of Grant and compare that life and experience to Barack Obama and other political leaders of today.  Men like Grant were tested in ways and manners so far removed than what we have in our leaders today that it is no wonder we find us where we are today.  We can't maneuver around a fiscal cliff?  What is that compared to the Battle of Shiloh or Vicksburg?

I found it particularly interesting how Grant responded to the Panic of 1873 in his second term as President.  By the way, when Grant was nominated by the Republicans for President in 1868 he gave but one speech-his acceptance of the nomination-of which he principally just focused on one theme, "Let us have peace".  He conducted no campaign as such.  Similarly, in his reelection bid in 1872 he also never campaigned.  How times have changed!

The Panic of 1873 was caused by "an insatiable desire for money that spawned a speculative boom that skyrocketed out of control.  Banks had lent money recklessly and brokerage houses had marketed securities that were often worthless", according to Smith in the Grant biography.  Does that sound familiar?

In 1873 Wall Street financial institutions started to fall like dominoes.  Grant soon came under pressure from Washington politicians to inflate the currency.  People were hurting as bankruptcies and unemployment soon followed as businesses, farms and factories were lost.  Congress felt that pumping more paper money into the system would solve the problems. Again, does that sound familiar?

Grant was torn.  Having suffered in the Panic of 1857-that was the Christmas the president had pawned his gold watch to buy presents for his family-he sympathized with the nation's farmers and small businessmen.  Grant knew what it meant to be poor, to try to make a crop, to have a business fail, to be out of a job, and as a last resort to peddle firewood on a St. Louis street corner.  His heart was responsive to those who wanted to pump more money into the economy, yet as president he felt his responsibility was to the nation's future.  

Cheap paper money might look like a panacea, but inflation was never a friend to stable government.  The United States would be driven from the world standard, the return to specie-backed currency would be set back, property values would be unsettled, and speculation rekindled.  If Congress could simply print unredeemable paper money to appease popular demand, the nation was in peril.

Congress passed a bill to greatly increase the nation's money supply (this was before the creation of the Federal Reserve). Grant then had to decide whether to sign the bill into law or use his veto power.  He initially decided to approve the measure bending to the political pressures but as he wrote down his rationale he determined that his reasoning was fallacious.  He vetoed the bill much to the shock and anger of his Cabinet and the Congress.  His veto was upheld and the nation soon moved solidly behind Grant's call for sound money and a stable currency.  

The gold standard was resumed shortly thereafter that paved the way for the enormous growth of the U.S. economy in the last quarter of the 19th Century.  By 1900, the U.S. dollar had replaced all other currencies as the international symbol of financial stability. 

Where is our U.S. Grant today?