[originally published at shelbyforplano.com]
This is going to be a long one, but this will be the most important thing I write all year, so if you're going to read any of it, strap in and read all of it.
America is at a crossroads, and we face two radically different paths. The world has changed as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, and there's no going back to the way things were. The palpable stress created by mounting uncertainty, fear, hardship, and dual health and economic disasters have brought out the best in some, and the worst in others.
The incredible surge of spirit and resilience we witnessed at the beginning was reminiscent of Hurricane Harvey. As the stores began to run out of staple items and things started shutting down, red-blooded Texans and Americans didn't wait around for the government to do something--they just rolled up their sleeves and got to work helping those in need, but this soon gave way to the emergence of a variety of state and local officials across the nation whose inner authoritarians awoke and stretched newfound wings, unchained by the suffocating restraints of the Constitution and the Rule of Law. These individuals, no longer bound by the legislative process or by checks and balances, have given us a small glimpse of what motivated our Founding Fathers to forge "a new nation conceived in Liberty."
Now, as we enter the third month of shutdowns, a crucial truth is rapidly fading from the national consciousness: the only ostensible purpose for shutting anything down was to avoid overwhelming our healthcare systems. We never came close to overwhelming them; it didn't even happen in New York City, the new epicenter of the pandemic. The CDC recommended social distancing, frequent hand-washing, and several other measures from the beginning, but the shutdowns had only one purpose: "Slow the Spread," and "Flatten the Curve." Remember those phrases? Remember how they didn't say, "Stop the Spread," or "Eliminate the Curve?" They didn't say that because that was never going to happen.
So what's the game now? Even as Los Angeles County announced the re-opening of beaches with highly restricted use (umbrellas, coolers, and chairs are prohibited), it extended its stay-at-home order for three more months, until the end of July. For what purpose? Our economy is shattered, with the highest unemployment since the Great Depression. We've been so obsessed with keeping people from dying that we've also kept them from living. What have we to gain by continuing to wreck our economy? Locking down the planet will not stop the spread of the virus. It can only slow it, so we must ask: to what purpose, and at what cost? If AMC's The Walking Dead taught us anything, it's that mere survival is meaningless unless there's something to survive for.
Plenty of people have tossed around catchy phrases like "People Before Profits" and "Health Before Wealth," but that's not merely demagoguery, it's Marxist demagoguery, employing words like "profit" and "wealth" to evoke jealousy or shame. Tell me, are the devastated families now waiting in the long lines at food banks thinking about "profit" or "wealth?" Are they selfish capitalists for wanting to return to work and have a roof over their heads and food in their bellies? Does anyone who piously proclaims, "If it saves just one life..." ever really mean it? Of course they don't, because before all of this, not a single one of them were advocating for school-zone speed limits and solid steel cars on every piece of pavement in America, where 40,000 people die each year in automobile accidents, un-mourned by those now advocating for the decimation of our economy.
Honestly, that tells you all you need to know. This pandemic and the wreckage it's caused weren't planned (at least not by the American government); that would require believing in a secret that's truly too big to keep, where nearly everyone is "in on it," but it should surprise precisely no one that statists (those who believe in ever-greater government control--hat tip Mark Levin) have seized on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to advance their ideology, just as they have in every other crisis before this.
They're already calling for a radical restructuring of our nation, and remaking of society, to "make sure this doesn't happen again." News flash: this happened because of the Chinese Communist Party, so if we ever wanted to test whether stringent government control would prevent a pandemic, we have, and it failed spectacularly.
But don't be fooled. "Protecting people" is just a pretext, to exert ever-more authority, but to be perfectly clear: the job of government, at any level, is not to "protect us." The role of government is to secure our rights, as expressed in no uncertain terms in the Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
This idea would later be reflected in the Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Patrick Henry very famously did not say, "Give me an increased chance for survival, or give me death!" In addition, Benjamin Franklin once said: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
Government is meant to secure our right to life and promote the general welfare precisely to the extent that it doesn't infringe on our other rights, as neither may preclude or preempt our liberty. Too many have lost sight of this. Too many more never knew. The statists simply don't care. They're already seizing what control they can, just as they've been steadily eroding our liberty for more than a century, slowly turning up the heat on us like frogs set to boil, oblivious to the inevitable.
If they succeed, the sun will set permanently on America and everything it stands for. But in the opportunity presented by this pandemic, the statists, in their greed, reached too far, too fast, and millions of Americans, like frogs tossed suddenly into already-boiling water, have taken sharp notice, and the Sleeping Giant is awakening. If we can overcome the authoritarian push by the statists across this great nation, we can usher in a new dawn in America, restoring the liberty we have lost, but were always meant to have.
If that's to happen, however, we have to work toward it--not against it. We have to be smart, which means some people are going to have to come to grips with logic and reality. A dangerous false dichotomy has emerged, and the two sides are, perhaps not surprisingly, falling along political-ideological lines. On either side are the following assertions::
If you accept that the virus is real, or that it's more dangerous than the flu, then you are submitting to indefinite shutdowns and dictatorial government control
If you don't call for indefinite shutdowns and accept autocratic rule, you don't take the virus seriously and are selfishly putting everyone at mortal risk
Both of these ideas are patently false, completely illogical, and incredibly dangerous. Asserting either of these is to shoot ourselves in the foot (or worse, in the face). The truth is that:
The new Coronavirus is real and is about ten times more dangerous than the flu (explained below using actual data and logic)
We cannot ever again sacrifice our liberty, nor shut down our economy short of an actual potential extinction event--maybe not even then
We can each take reasonable personal precautions, such as social distancing, compulsive hand-washing, etc., which will allow us to achieve a measure of herd immunity over time, without overwhelming our hospitals, nor sacrificing our economy or livelihoods. However, if we cleave to the false dichotomy, we signal to those on the fence that each side is as irrational as the other side, with the result that they don't choose a side. That achieves nothing more than giving free ammunition to the statists to use to turn the screws tighter and tighter, "for our own safety."
Show the American people reason and resolve, rather than ranting and raving, and I have great faith that the indomitable American spirit will inspire the vast majority to reject authoritarian control, and embrace liberty.
Here, then, are the facts. None of them justify panic.
Making Sense of the Numbers
A lot of numbers have been flying around in the media and social media, and everyone is putting their own spin on it. Look past the hype, and let logic be your guide. As of today, May 17, 2020, the CDC is reporting 1,467,065 confirmed and probable cases in the U.S. Following is the criteria for a "probable" case (spoiler alert: it doesn't include being flattened by a steamroller, contrary to popular memes):
Meeting clinical criteria AND epidemiologic evidence with no confirmatory laboratory testing performed for COVID-19
Meeting presumptive laboratory evidence AND either clinical criteria OR epidemiologic evidence
Meeting vital records criteria with no confirmatory laboratory testing performed for COVID19
The number of cases, of course, is almost meaningless in figuring out how dangerous the virus is because we have no earthly idea how many people have actually had it and were never tested or sought medical care. Moreover, while more than ten million tests have been administered to date in America, for a variety of reasons, only 15 percent have been positive. This, however, doesn't tell us how many people in the general population might have it, and doesn't mean that those tested didn't have it at one time--just that they didn't have it at the time they took the test.
The raw number of deaths, however, is far more telling because while it's impossible to figure out the true number of infections, when someone dies in America, it tends to get noticed. These are the people who ultimately wound up in the hospital and tested positive or exhibited clear symptoms of COVID-19, and didn't make it. That count isn't entirely accurate, but we've known all along that it wouldn't be. Not only is it impossible at this scale due to variations in reporting across hospitals, counties, and states; but when state and federal money was introduced to reimburse for pandemic efforts and care, it added a perverse incentive to inflate the number of cases and deaths.
There have certainly been instances of improper classification, such as a Colorado man who died of alcohol poisoning being counted among the state's COVID-19 deaths because he also tested positive for COVID-19, though the coroner said the man's death was unrelated to the virus. Due to such issues, Colorado just announced that it lowered its death count by 24% (which means it had been inflated by 31%) by removing deaths with COVID-19, and counting only those deaths from COVID-19. A legitimate death from COVID-19 doesn't mean that COVID-19 was the only factor; it means that without the virus, the person likely wouldn't have died. We knew early on that people with comorbidities (underlying health conditions) are at significantly increased risk.
But some have taken the position that if the numbers aren't 100 percent accurate, then they're 100 percent fake. That's a wholly irrational conclusion. Even if you assume the entire aggregate death toll across America were as dramatically inflated as Colorado's (which would require you to believe in the inherent dishonesty of at least one-third of doctors, administrators, and officials), it would show this Coronavirus to still be deadlier than anything since the Hong Kong Flu pandemic of 1968, more than half a century ago, in which an estimated 100,000 Americans died.
The recent 2017-2018 flu season, which some insist on portraying as "average" was actually the deadliest in at least forty years, resulting in an estimated 61,000 deaths. The truth is that it accounted for about twice the average number of flu-related deaths over the last decade.
As of today, the CDC is reporting 88,709 total deaths in the U.S., but numerous people have been floating the conspiracy theory that flu and pneumonia deaths are now just being classified as COVID-19 deaths. It's a conspiracy theory because that would literally require a conspiracy of doctors and officials across the entire country to coordinate. However, the data, in conjunction with a little logic, contradict this idea. The CDC has made it easy to see the trends in deaths attributable to various causes with its provisional data going back to week ending February 1. The last two weeks of reported data is unreliable due to a two-week lag in the nationwide reporting and collection of death certificates, so I've done the math through April 25. The data show the following:
Total deaths from all causes in April was up 38,091 (16.6%) over the February-March average
Total deaths from COVID-19 in April were 48,017 (remember, this didn't seriously kick into gear in the U.S. until the last week of March); it's not an even swap because of various factors, not least of which is people aren't driving, or doing much of anything else with inherent risk, so normal deaths from other causes decreased
Total deaths from pneumonia (without COVID-19) in April was up 134% over the February-March average. With such a dramatic increase, if anything, it would suggest the possibility that actual COVID-19 deaths were misdiagnosed and misreported as pneumonia deaths, though I can't imagine that would amount to many
Total deaths from flu in April was down 42% from the February-March average, but before you say, "Aha!";
Not only would every last one of those reduced flu deaths account for only 1.9 percent of total COVID-19 deaths in April, but we expected a reduction in flu spread due to the shutdowns, which means COVID-19 is still the deadliest thing in fifty years. The reason COVID-19 deaths went up while influenza deaths went down is because this coronavirus is new--it has nowhere to go but up. If the Coronavirus had been around for the past year or two, working its way through the population the whole time, then we would logically expect to see a commensurate reduction in COVID-19 deaths when we started locking down.
Had we not locked down the planet, we would most certainly by now have exceeded the number of deaths from the Hong Kong Flu.
The Real Risk
As discussed before, the case fatality rate the media is fixated on, which in America is currently about six percent, is meaningless. We can have a decent handle on the numerator (the number of deaths), but without a somewhat reliable denominator (the number of infections), we can't know the true mortality rate. We do, however, know that it has nowhere to go but down, because the number of deaths isn't increasing, but the number of cases surely would if everyone were tested. It doesn't help that the original Imperial College study on which many of the shutdowns were based has been widely panned as seriously flawed.
Instead, we have to rely on other and more recent measures to get a best estimate. At best, the actual mortality rate is estimated at just below half a percent, and up to 1.5 percent, which makes it anywhere from five times to fifteen times deadlier than the flu, which has a mortality rate of about 0.1 percent. Then we have to consider the transmissibility data, which indicates that COVID-19 has an R0 (pronounced R naught) of 2.2 - 2.7, meaning that an infected person can expect to spread it to 2.2 - 2.7 other people, compared to an R0 value of about 1.3 for the seasonal flu.
To calculate the real threat to life in comparison to the flu, we need to multiply the number of people who might contract the virus by the mortality rate of those who contract it. This gives us a range of 8.5 - 31 times more dangerous than the flu. That's a huge range, but we can't pretend that everyone is equally susceptible to the risk. The elderly and those with comorbidities are at greatest risk, so not only should they take necessary precautions, but so should those who care for them and live with them.
The data (even with a significant fudge factor) indicate clearly that this is something to be taken seriously, which we can do without shutting down, and without sacrificing our liberty. Americans and everyone else in the world accept a measure of risk every day; it's an inherent part of life, and we can take reasonable, personal precautions to mitigate the risk.
Some states are starting to re-open. Texas, Georgia, and Florida have taken definitive steps and are ahead of the curve, nationally. Don't let the statists tell you that the goal is no new cases for a certain period of time, or that we have to roll back the re-openings if there is an uptick. We are absolutely going to continue to have new cases, and we can naturally expect more when people resume living and start interacting more. That's how communicable diseases work, and it's not remotely a reason to remain shut down, or to shut it all down again. Don't let them snow you. Unless the hospital systems are genuinely at risk of being overwhelmed, then provide guidance to people for how to mitigate the spread, and let humanity get on with the business of living our lives
For some strange reason, masks have become a symbol of submission to government tyranny. This is more in defiance of logic than of government. In Texas, at least, masks are explicitly encouraged, but not required. So tell me how doing something voluntarily to protect others is a sign of submission to tyranny?
To support this narrative, a video clip has been making the rounds of a 60 Minutes interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, where he said, "Right now in the United States, people should not be walking around with masks." The first two words of that sentence, "right now" are pivotal. That interview aired on March 8, and was pre-recorded, when we were aware of fewer than ten total deaths in the United States attributable to COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) hadn't even declared it a pandemic yet (not that they were on the ball), and nothing in America had yet been shut down. So "right now" there was no reason for people to be walking around with masks. Now, more than two months later, not only have we learned a great deal, but we also know the virus is much more widespread in the U.S. than it was on March 8.
Which leads us to what Dr. Fauci said immediately before that quote, in the very same interview, which has largely been ignored: "The masks are important for someone who's infected to prevent them from infecting someone else." We have known for some time that people can be asymptomatic and still transmit the virus. Some have recently asserted that is false--that asymptomatic spread doesn't happen--based on a flawed report in the New England Journal of Medicine from late January. While the conclusion reached in that report was indeed flawed because the authors made a sloppy assumption that a traveler from China was asymptomatic without corroborating with the traveler herself, that by no means disproves the author's conclusion, which has since borne out across the planet in the intervening four months.
The Way Forward
I recently conducted a recent poll with just two questions. 109 people responded, which isn't a phenomenal sample set, but it's better than a dozen. The questions and responses are as follows:
Should government authorities require precautions to slow the spread of Coronavirus (e.g. wearing masks, social distancing, limiting occupancy of businesses)? [Yes / No / It Depends] Nearly half of respondents (47.7%) said "No," which I kind of expected. 20.2% said "Yes," which, with the third option, was a little concerning, and the remaining third (32.1%) said "It Depends": 32.1% (this seems reasonable; our government requires numerous reasonable things--like obeying traffic signals--to ensure we're not recklessly endangering one another)
Should people voluntarily wear masks and socially distance until the spread of Coronavirus is under control? [Yes / No / It Doesn't Matter] Note the key word "voluntarily," meaning it's not required. Also note the third option: "It Doesn't Matter." 66.1% of respondents said, "Yes," while 21.1% of respondents said, "It Doesn't Matter." That left 12.8% who answered with a definitive, "No." This is, quite frankly, a little alarming. These individuals presumably don't believe the virus is a hoax, else they would have answered, "It Doesn't Matter," along with the others, but nonetheless conclude that we should refuse to do anything to mitigate its spread--not even voluntarily, and not even if it won't harm our economy. While 12.8% is a minority, to be sure, it's enough to torpedo the chance we have to reawaken America.
The statists already feel entitled to clamp down on our liberties, permanently; we can't give them reason to claim justification.
The battle before us is manifold, and it comes down to the right of the American people to choose for themselves, so long as they don't infringe on the same right of others. If we're to show the statists, each another, and the world, that we don't need government directing our lives, then we need to prove it. Demonstrate, protest, rally, tear up unlawful cease-and-desist orders, but don't refuse to acknowledge that there's a virus, or the tens of thousands of Americans who have lost their lives from it. Then, not only will the statists clamp down, but they'll have supporters among a wide swath of the nation, and we will lose this precious opportunity to restore liberty.
We have to hammer into the American awareness the fact that the shutdowns were only supposed to avert the overwhelming of our healthcare system, and it never came close. There is certainly reason to exercise precautions, but without that threat, there is no reason to shut anything down.
We have to point people to the Constitution of the United States. It's the very foundation of the rule of law in our nation, and it's constantly invoked, yet almost no one knows what it actually says. Educate yourself and everyone you meet, and explain the importance of the rule of law. If we dismiss the Constitution because of its age, then we dismiss the rule of law itself, and accept that Might makes Right. If the Constitution is outdated, then let it be amended, as has been done twenty-seven times in our nation's history. The process is spelled out right there in Article V, and is the reason I am a leader with the Convention of States movement--to allow the states to impose the reforms on the federal government that Congress never will.
Continue to help one another, voluntarily, as it's meant to be. Provide for one another through churches, food banks, charities, and individually. Show the world that Americans take care of one another, and the rest of the world, and do it better than the heavy hand of government.
There must be a reckoning for China, on a global scale. Regardless of whether this virus was created or modified in a Chinese lab, it was the Chinese Communist Party's focus on suppressing information about the virus, rather than suppressing the virus itself, that caused this global pandemic. We cannot turn a blind eye to their crime, and we cannot continue relations with the Chinese government as we have. The WHO is already kowtowing to them, and many nations are following suit. Buy American--or at least buy non-communist.
Last, but not least, get involved. The statists occupy offices from Sea to Shining Sea, and are gunning for Texas. Vote them out, and elect those who believe in liberty; who will fight for our rights, and will see the right thing done over the popular thing. Spread the word about these candidates, donate to and volunteer for their campaigns. No good candidates? Recruit someone to run, or better yet, step up yourself.
The Constitution and the great American spirit have forged the greatest, freest, most prosperous nation in the history of the world. Let's make it greater than ever.