Wednesday, January 13, 2021

 The inaugural ICBW podcast of 2021 is now posted.  Part 1 covers the kerfuffle at the Capitol, part 2 reviews the blog's annual predictions, and part 3 finishes the predictions review and revisits the Section 230 debate in light of recent political purges on social media.  Listening--and then commenting here--would be the perfect way to get the fresh new year off to a good start...

Friday, January 01, 2021

2020 having been a most unusual year, this will of course be a most unusual end-of-year predictions post.  Needless to say, our predictions this time around require a huge asterisk:  by December 31st,  2019, this blog had completely failed to predict a massive global pandemic in 2020.  Readers can judge this lack of prescience as they see fit.

Notwithstanding this major (if utterly unsurprising) failure, though, the rest of the predictions don’t hold up too badly:

  • As mentioned in the podcast, Joe Biden will win the Democratic party nomination, and be elected president.  (Bonus "alternative reality" prediction:  if Biden somehow fails to win the nomination, then Trump will be re-elected.)

Not only was the real-world prediction correct, but the closeness of the election suggests strongly that the hypothetical one would have been, as well.

  • Following another election in which Likud weakens slightly but not enough for the opposition Blue-and-White party to forge its own coalition government, Likud and Blue-and-White will strike a deal on a unity government, with the leaders sharing prime ministerial duties.  In Britain, Brexit will go through under the deal negotiated by Boris Johnson (with perhaps a few minor amendments), with no major economic consequences for Britain in 2020.

These predictions were also dead-on, although admittedly both were widely considered fairly likely at the beginning of the year.

  • The continuation of the Trump administration's absurdly expansionary economic policies will stave off an economic downturn through 2020 (at a likely serious cost in 2021, of course).  Equity markets will rise modestly, amid high volatility, and interest rates will finally be forced upwards, but only slightly, towards the end of the year.  Oil and real estate prices will follow a similar pattern.

Putting aside the failure to predict the COVID-related economic downturn, the stock market prediction actually fared well.  Interest rates, on the other hand, fell sharply in response to the pandemic, as did oil and real estate prices (although the latter were stable for most of the year, and home prices actually increased—offset, of course, by the decline in commercial real estate due to the pandemic proving the viability of office-less office work.)

  • The civil unrest in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran will unfortunately be ruthlessly crushed, and will have completely disappeared by the end of 2020, with no significant interference by American forces (which will have quietly and all-but-completely withdrawn from Iraq, under Iranian pressure, by mid-year).  The strain of dealing with this unrest will however impede the Iranian regime from significant aggressive moves beyond this consolidation of power.  For example, as mentioned in the podcast, Afghanistan will not fall to the Taliban in 2020, although the latter will make significant progress following the reduction in US support for the ruling government.

This prediction got at least the directions correct, if not the magnitudes.  The number of US troops in Iraq, for example, was reduced in September to about half of its pre-2020 level.  And Iran has indeed spent 2020 consolidating its power rather than expanding it aggressively.

  • Hong Kong will likewise be fully pacified at some point in 2020, and attention towards China will shift away from human rights issues in both Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and towards the increasingly dire state of the Chinese economy.

The first part of the prediction was correct, but the pandemic played havoc with the second part, as China’s ruthless and dishonest handling of its own (and the world’s) COVID crisis intensified attention on its totalitarianism, and the pandemic’s devastating effect on the global economy obscured China’s specific economic problems.

  • Conditions in Mexico will continue to deteriorate, with criminal organizations scoring even more spectacular victories against government forces, and more Americans getting caught in the crossfire.  Crime in the US will also spike significantly, as soft-on-crime policies spread across more and more jurisdictions, driven by a strange-bedfellows coalition of radical leftists and libertarians.  Anti-Semitic attacks in the New York City area will continue to occur at a high rate, for example, as will incidents of homelessness-related disorder in West Coast cities.

The prediction about Mexico was, like many others, overshadowed by the pandemic—while crime rose slightly, less American travel to Mexico reduced the number of American victims.  The prediction of rising crime in the US, however, was quite accurate, and no doubt enhanced by the strengthening of the anti-police movement over the summer.

  • In the US, there will be much attention given to the decline of non-online retail shopping, as "dead malls" and decaying downtowns prompt pundits to ponder this decline's dire consequences for society and propose solutions to the problem--mostly involving boycotting online retailers and pumping money into local ones.

This was a rare instance of a prediction accidentally made more accurate by the pandemic, as COVID-related lockdowns further decimated the brick-and-mortar retail sector and boosted its online counterpart.

Now for our predictions for 2021:

  • The vaccine-induced abatement of the COVID epidemic in the US and other Western countries will release a great deal of pent-up demand, gradually heating up the economy throughout the year.  Stock indices will again rise slightly from their already overinflated highs, oil and real estate prices will rebound, and interest rates will begin to creep upward towards the end of the year.
  • Polls notwithstanding, Republicans will win both Georgia Senate seats in the January runoff, leaving Congress deadlocked with a barely-Democratic House and a barely-Republican Senate.  Hence, as in the last couple of administrations, the US government’s direction will be set by the presidency, rather than by Congress.
  • The Biden administration will use its executive powers to reinstate some of the Obama administration initiatives rolled back by Trump, such as renewed negotiations with Iran, looser immigration enforcement, and requirements for universities to impose a presumption of guilt on students accused of sexual misconduct.  However, it’ll stop short of a full reinstatement of the status quo ante:  neither the JCPOA (“Iran deal”), nor DACA (legalization of “dreamers”), nor the Obama administration’s “dear colleague” letter to Universities (threatening them with punishment for insufficient zeal in presuming the accused guilty in sexual misconduct cases) will be fully restored.  In other respects as well, such as policing and racial policy, the new administration will pursue a moderate liberal course, rather than a progressive one.  As a result, many journalists and (other) leftist activists will cast Biden and his administration as centrist and even quasi-Republican, and will attack it relentlessly.  Stories that have so far been taboo, like the Biden family’s corruption and Biden’s own fading mental acuity, will gradually be taken up by leftists, much as Bill Clinton’s early-administration scandals were pushed primarily by leftist journalists.  Biden will thus end the year with very weak public approval numbers.
  • Partly in response to such stories, US policy towards China will resemble Russia policy under Trump:  extremely self-contradictory, with alternating messages of friendship and hostility.  The Biden administration will resist imposing sanctions and trade restrictions, but will maintain or strengthen mutual defense arrangements with China’s near neighbors, and occasionally remark on human rights issues (without taking significant action).
  • The upcoming election will finally evict Benjamin Netanyahu from office in Israel, with Gideon Sa’ar’s new party ultimately making possible a ruling coalition that includes Likud but is not dominated by it.  As a result, the prosecution of Netanyahu on corruption charges will be allowed to proceed, but it will not result in a conviction by the end of 2021.
  • At least one of the following elderly and/or rumored-ill international leaders will be said to have had a (possibly secretly) life-threatening medical episode during 2021:  Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin (rumored to suffer from Parkinson’s disease), Ayatollah Khamenei, Raoul Castro, Queen Elizabeth II.
  • US university enrollments will continue to decline in 2021—COVID-related deferments in 2020 notwithstanding—and several small colleges will announce plans to close down completely.  (Furthermore, any Biden administration program to reduce the cost of Community College enrollment will largely cannibalize university enrollment.)  Similarly, the exodus of businesses and employees from expensive downtowns such as New York and San Francisco, jump-started by the move to remote work during the pandemic, will continue in 2021.  And movie theaters will close in large numbers, in response to a very anemic post-pandemic audience recovery.  (Bars and restaurants, on the other hand, will experience a much larger surge in returning customers, and those that survived the pandemic will prosper, with many new ones opening to meet the demand.)
Readers are invited to post comments containing their own predictions for 2021, or celebrating their (properly documented) correct predictions for 2020. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

 The even-more-spectacular 4-part final ICBW podcast of 2020 is now available for our listeners to (attempt to) enjoy.  Part 1 discusses COVID hypocrites in government; part 2 delves into election integrity, this year and beyond; part 3 explores recent political efforts to dismantle local criminal justice systems, and the motivations behind them; and part 4 explains the famous "Section 230" and its relationship to social media.  As always, we encourage listeners to leave comments here to respond to our arguments, or merely to let us know they exist... 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

 The spectacular new 4-part post-election ICBW podcast is now available, and it's jam-packed with thoughtful and provocative conversation.  Part 1 briefly covers the election fraud issue, part 2 discusses the likely character of the Biden administration, part 3 is a meditation on the general nature of political power, and part 4 reaches back for a look at the affair of Hunter Biden's laptop.  As always, listeners are plaintively urged to respond via comments, if only to prove that they exist...

Sunday, October 11, 2020

 The October edition of the ICBW podcast is now available for listening.  In part 1, we discuss the latest on the COVID-19 pandemic and the presidential debate; part 2 covers the recent rise in enthusiasm for censorship in certain quarters, and part 3 discusses Antifa and other anti-democratic movements, and how to deal with them.  Last chance to listen (and comment) before the election!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

 The Labor Day edition of the ICBW podcast is now available.  In part 1, we discuss recent urban unrest, in part 2 we debate the sincerity of public figures' professed political positions, and in part 3 we speculate on the mental condition of this year's presidential candidates.  As always, listeners are encouraged to respond to our discussion by adding comments to this post, rather than by, say, rioting or looting.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

 The August edition of the ICBW podcast is now posted.  Part 1 covers the Beirut explosion and voting security issues raised by mail-in ballots, discussion of which continues in part 2.  In part 3 we discuss the Orwellian--or perhaps not-so-Orwellian--semantic games recently infecting the discourse (including the constant introduction of ill-defined terms such as "the discourse" into the discourse).  As always, listeners are invited to post responses in the form of comments on this post, which, unlike most podcasters, we in fact actually read...  

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The July ICBW podcast is now available, filled to the brim with pertinent topics and rambling, irrelevant digressions from them.  In part 1, we discuss recent unrest in US cities, with a lengthy digression on the question of whether the American Revolution was a good idea.  In part 2, we compare "cancel culture" with its predecessor, McCarthyism, before wandering off into topics such as crime and the cyclicality (or lack thereof) of political and social trends.  Finally, in part 3, we discuss MIT's response to COVID-19, which triggers general pondering of the questions of what should be studied in fields such as history and science.  Perfect listening for our ADD-afflicted fans!

Saturday, June 06, 2020

The June edition of the ICBW podcast is now available.  Part one discusses the causes and consequences of the recent nationwide protests/riots/looting, part two delves into what the unrest reveals about policing, and part three looks at "expertise" and scientific integrity--how to identify the former, and how to preserve (or perhaps restore) the latter.  Perfect curfew listening! 

Thursday, May 07, 2020

The May edition of the ICBW podcast is now available.  In part 1, we discuss (what else?) COVID-19 and how to deal with it, including the ideas in my recent post on the subject.  In part 2, we move to politics--specifically, the 2020 election and the Flynn case.  And in part 3, we discuss the recent wave of enthusiasm for Internet censorship, and its relationship to political partisanship.  Stay safe and healthy, listeners!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The current debate over "opening up" various cities and states, as opposed to "keeping them closed", in response to the local state of the COVID-19 epidemic, makes absolutely no sense to me.  First of all, "opening up" and "keeping closed" are not binary choices--there are infinitely many gradations between a complete lockdown and the pre-epidemic state.  In fact, no place (in America, at least) has been placed in a "complete lockdown" state since the epidemic began--every place, for example, allows "essential services", defined variously, to continue to operate.  Secondly, the continuum isn't even single-dimensional--rather, there are all kinds of specific rules that can be imposed that allow or prohibit various activities in various locations under various rules.  The possible combinations are endless.  So how do we decide among them?

The reason so many people are so baffled by these choices, in my opinion, is that we lack clear information on the effects of various restrictive countermeasures.  Suppose we require everyone in a particular location or pursuing a particular activity to wear some kind of cloth mask.  How much would that cut down on the spread of COVID-19?  What about requiring 6 feet of space between people?  12 feet?  6 feet plus a mask?  Does it matter whether it's indoors or outdoors?  As far as I know, we simply don't yet have good, quantitative answers to these questions, and until we do, we can't really determine what policy to impose on activities that involve interactions among people from different households.  (That's why most locales have been resorting to the one big hammer they know works:  fairly complete lockdown.)

Our first priority, therefore, should be to gather the data necessary to answer these questions as quickly and accurately as possible.  Once we have the answers, the issue of "essential" vs. "non-essential" activities will likely disappear.  Instead, we will be able to ask the question, "what set of restrictions makes a particular activity--whether essential or non-essential--under a particular set of circumstances acceptably low-risk for infection?  For example, shopping--whether for essential groceries or non-essential fashion apparel--is presumably reasonably safe under the right set of conditions, and once we have determined those conditions, we should apply them equally to all retail environments.  The same can be said of other activities, whether recreational, commercial, social or political.  (It's of course possible that for some previously popular activities, a reasonably safe set of conditions simply doesn't exist.  But one hopes that that set of activities is fairly small.)

Perhaps more importantly, approaching the issue in these terms is likely to mitigate a lot of the raucous political and social conflict surrounding it.  Right now, discussions about how and when to "open up" are dominated by loud, belligerent and largely ignorant voices, because more reasonable ones have little in the way of concrete proposals or supporting evidence to back them up.  Armed with a set of specific, transparent and scientifically supported policies, though--rather than a pair of vague, broad options--the reasonable voices might actually have a fighting chance.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The April Fools' Day edition of the ICBW podcast is now available to entertain anyone foolish enough to listen.  In part 1, we discuss--what else, COVID-19, what was done, why it was done, and what could (or couldn't) have been done instead.  In part 2, we discuss microeconomic responses to the pandemic, and in part 3, we discuss macroeconomic responses and their effects, along with our by-now-standard digressions into academia, environmentalism and Constitutional law.  All in all, perfect listening for fools everywhere!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The March 2020 edition of the ICBW podcast is now available for download or streaming.  In part 1, we discuss the novel coronavirus and its press coverage, digressing into a general discussion of the evolution of the press in the US over the last century or so.  In part 2, we assess the recent proposed peace treaties between Israel and the Palestinians, and between the US and the Taliban in Afghanistan.  And in part 3, we look at the recent protests by Canadian Native peoples against various energy projects, and consider the whole question of indigenous status in a modern country like Canada.  Perfect self-isolation listening!

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

As foreshadowed by our podcast, it's time for the traditional ICBW end-of-year predictions post.  As always, we begin with our (rather unimpressive) slate of predictions for the past year:
  • The US economy will slow markedly starting in early-to-mid 2019, though not into recession territory.  The stock markets will continue to decline throughout the year, rallying late but not by enough to prevent an overall negative year.  Real estate prices will also continue their decline, but oil prices will rebound modestly from their recent lows.
By no means is this the first time we have underestimated the resiliency of the current bubble economic recovery.
  • President Trump's approval ratings will continue their stable modestly-underwater trend throughout 2019.  There will continue to be multiple non-stop investigations--this time including Congressional ones--of the president's activities, but they will result in no immediate legal jeopardy to the president himself, nor will he be impeached by the House of Representatives.  Numerous White House staffers and cabinet members will be investigated and prosecuted, however--including by politically ambitious state prosecutors unconnected with Congressional or Department of Justice investigations.
The first part of the prediction was rock-solid, but not only has Trump now been impeached, but the pace of investigation of Trump administration officials has been so lackadaisical that this tracking page hasn't been updated since March.  Apparently, Trump has the uncanny ability not only to draw an inordinate amount of media attention towards himself, but an inordinate amount of investigative attention, as well.
  • The frontrunners for the Democratic Party presidential nomination at the end of the year will be the most viable candidates from the party's "mainstream" (read:  minority) and "progressive" (read:  upper-class/would-be upper-class) wings.  Kamala Harris and Kirstin Gillibrand are the current favorites for these respective roles.
I actually have a pretty consistent record of getting presidential nominees badly wrong, and this one fits the pattern.  However, my breakdown of the Democratic party's structure is now conventional wisdom, with Biden the favorite of the mainstream/minority wing, and Warren and Sanders splitting the upper-class/would-be upper-class wing's support.
  • In Europe, "Hard Brexit"--without a negotiated deal--will come to pass, with far milder consequences than opponents are predicting.  As a result, British PM Theresa May will survive in office through 2019--partly out of Tory fear of the electorate, and partly out of the inability of her divided party (mirroring the pre-Trump US GOP's business/blue-collar split) to coalesce around an acceptable alternative.  Meanwhile, the EU will calm its many internal rebellions by acquiescing to greater immigration restrictions across the union.
This one almost came true, but some deft parliamentary maneuvering by remainers prevented it.  As a result, May was toppled and new PM Boris Johnson looks able to ram through a Brexit deal in January.  As for EU immigration policy, it seems more intent--for now, at least--on pushing the lump in the carpet around rather than flattening it.
  • Justin Trudeau will win a comfortable majority in the coming Canadian federal election.  (Canadians usually re-elect their prime ministers at least once if they don't completely screw up on the job.)  Likewise, Benjamin Netanyahu will win re-election and remain in office through 2019, although a corruption indictment will be delivered against him, and its resulting legal process will drag on through the year, hanging over his political career without actually ending it.
I slightly overestimated the political strength of both leaders, although the real consequences of the difference remain to be seen.  Trudeau's near-majority is in practice little less stable than a majority, and while Netanyahu just barely failed to cobble together a coalition over two elections, his opponents have also failed to form one, and as a result he continues to be Israel's PM, despite the indictments issued against him.
  • The combination of US withdrawal from Syria and increased Turkish intervention there to suppress the Syrian Kurds' territorial ambitions will turn the Syrian conflict into a Turkish-Iranian one, with the two would-be hegemons unable to work out an acceptable partition of the now-recolonized country.  Russia will recapitulate its historic rivalry with Turkey by siding with Iran, and the US will thus be pushed by its NATO commitments and geopolitical interests into siding with Turkey, despite the many tension-generating issues dividing the two countries (which may in turn be assuaged somewhat by this partnership).  Meanwhile, the US will reduce, if not eliminate, its involvement in Afghanistan, and refocus its energies on other geopolitical threats, such as China.
While this prediction accurately reflects the likely overall direction of the regional conflicts, it overstates the speed of their evolution.  Turkey and Iran aren't yet in full conflict, and Russia and the US are both still courting Turkey without either having fully won it over yet.  The predicted Afghanistan drawdown, on the other hand, has already begun.
  • Louis CK's comeback will spark a minor explosion of politically incorrect comedy, as stand-up comedians escalate from complaining about politically driven constraints on their material to actively rebelling against them.  The change will mark a tipping point in cultural acceptance of leftist censorship, since comics are by nature conformist barometers of consensus opinion, rather than the daring vanguards of forbidden ideas they are often portrayed as being.  (Laughter, as I've explained in the past, is a product of comfort and reassurance--often following surprise and/or discomfort--and comics must therefore provide reassurance in their punchlines to succeed.  They do so, in most cases, by catering to audiences' consensus beliefs and prejudices.  Thus if comics feel confident in mocking and flouting the rules of political correctness, then rejection of those rules must have achieved a high threshold level of consensus among comedy audiences.)
One swallow does not make a spring, of course--but it may sometimes signal its imminent arrival...  

And now for this year's predictions:
  • As mentioned in the podcast, Joe Biden will win the Democratic party nomination, and be elected president.  (Bonus "alternative reality" prediction:  if Biden somehow fails to win the nomination, then Trump will be re-elected.)
  • Following another election in which Likud weakens slightly but not enough for the opposition Blue-and-White party to forge its own coalition government, Likud and Blue-and-White will strike a deal on a unity government, with the leaders sharing prime ministerial duties.  In Britain, Brexit will go through under the deal negotiated by Boris Johnson (with perhaps a few minor amendments), with no major economic consequences for Britain in 2020.
  • The continuation of the Trump administration's absurdly expansionary economic policies will stave off an economic downturn through 2020 (at a likely serious cost in 2021, of course).  Equity markets will rise modestly, amid high volatility, and interest rates will finally be forced upwards, but only slightly, towards the end of the year.  Oil and real estate prices will follow a similar pattern.
  • The civil unrest in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran will unfortunately be ruthlessly crushed, and will have completely disappeared by the end of 2020, with no significant interference by American forces (which will have quietly and all-but-completely withdrawn from Iraq, under Iranian pressure, by mid-year).  The strain of dealing with this unrest will however impede the Iranian regime from significant aggressive moves beyond this consolidation of power.  For example, as mentioned in the podcast, Afghanistan will not fall to the Taliban in 2020, although the latter will make significant progress following the reduction in US support for the ruling government.  
  • Hong Kong will likewise be fully pacified at some point in 2020, and attention towards China will shift away from human rights issues in both Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and towards the increasingly dire state of the Chinese economy.
  • Conditions in Mexico will continue to deteriorate, with criminal organizations scoring even more spectacular victories against government forces, and more Americans getting caught in the crossfire.  Crime in the US will also spike significantly, as soft-on-crime policies spread across more and more jurisdictions, driven by a strange-bedfellows coalition of radical leftists and libertarians.  Anti-Semitic attacks in the New York City area will continue to occur at a high rate, for example, as will incidents of homelessness-related disorder in West Coast cities.
  • In the US, there will be much attention given to the decline of non-online retail shopping, as "dead malls" and decaying downtowns prompt pundits to ponder this decline's dire consequences for society and propose solutions to the problem--mostly involving boycotting online retailers and pumping money into local ones.
As always, you are enthusiastically encouraged to counter with your own opinions of these predictions, or alternative predictions of your own--even if you're my co-blogger LTEC, who's promised (in our podcast) to be even harsher on my past predictions than I was...