How to Buy and Store Your Own Hoard of Gold
Teachers' Unions: Blackboard Bullies
I D E A S T H A T M A T T E R E D I T E D B Y P . J . O ’ R O U R K E AMERICAN CONSEQUENCES
BITES FROM THE ROTTEN FRUIT OF KNOWLEDGE
SEPTEMBER 2 0 2 1
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
S chool’s back in session, America. Our nation’s already-broken education system nearly flatlined last year, threatening to become yet another COVID casualty. And now in 2021, classrooms have tentatively reopened amongst a firestorm of politics swirling around face masks, vaccines, “woke” curriculums, and toxic teachers’ unions. Here’s hoping our students can learn something this year, other than putting all this nonsense on mute. But if there’s one academic I trust, it’s P.J. O’Rourke . Staff writer Andrew Amundson interviews our Editor in Chief for a master class in not being an idiot. This tutorial may not help, but it will hurt... And author Geoffrey Norman , featured in the Wall Street Journal and Esquire, tells the tale of how he fought local teacher union muscle – and lost. P.J. O’Rourke returns to reminds us that America, land of sore winners and sloppy losers, needs to learn that we can’t shove democracy down the throats of the unwilling on the international stage. Staying on the global front, my feature story this month, “Made in the USA,” details how the pandemic put a stranglehold on America’s foreign supply chain – prompting a resurging need for onshore manufacturing.
Switching from macro to microeconomics, Stansberry Research’s go-to commodities expert Bill Shaw lays out a veritable treasure map for you: a definitive guide to storing your gold, from coins to bricks of bullion. And we have to talk about old Uncle Joe, of course. Executive Editor Buck Sexton warns us of Biden’s new world order, an authoritarian health regime where the unvaccinated are public-enemy No. 1, herd immunity is ignored, and everyone has to “mask up, shut up, and do what you’re told.” But there’s another lurking virus less visible than COVID... and another war closer to home than Afghanistan. Executive Editor Kim Iskyan details the horrors of our cyberattack era, from Russian-and-Chinese hacking farms to dark-hat actors stateside. And bringing us home is libertarian legend John Stossel , who talks with Senator Rand Paul about Big Tech shadow-banning public figures and Paul’s recent coronavirus censorship. Regards, Trish Regan Publisher, American Consequences
Grocery Store Billionaire WARNS OF OCTOBER SURPRISE
Billionaire John Catsimatidis is not like most wealthy men and women the financial media are obsessed with these days. He’s not a hedge-fund manager... or a venture capitalist. He’s not the founder of an electric car company... or a software developer. And he’s not a cryptocurrency backer... or “Fintech” entrepreneur. Instead, Catsimatidis made his billions the old-fashioned way... by focusing on two areas of life that affect nearly every American, every single day: groceries and real estate . That’s why I think it’s safe to say John Catsimatidis has a better handle on what’s really happening in the economy and with the American consumer , compared to just about anyone else out there. And recently, Catsimatidis went public with an alarming prediction... He says a huge shift is looming in the U.S. economy and financial system, which will reveal itself in a dramatic way this October... ( To see why Catsimatidis is so concerned, click here .)
A wealthy former Goldman Sachs banker agrees with Catsimatidis and says: “Most Americans are completely unprepared for what’s about to take place in our country.”
He goes on to add:
“This is not surprising, since roughly half the U.S. population was born AFTER 1981... and we simply haven’t seen anything like this in roughly 50 years.” What exactly is going on, and what has these two successful and wealthy men so concerned ? Well, this former Goldman Sachs banker – in addition to being a part-owner in several restaurants and a winery – is a founding partner in one of America’s most successful financial research firms. And he’s just issued an urgent warning... what he calls a “ Final Wake-Up Call ” for any American who cares about their money, finances, or retirement.
UNFILTERED. UNWAVERING. HARD HITTING. INFORMATIVE. Each week, the American Consequences podcast dives deep into fiscal and monetary policy, politics, and economics. You’ll get a view of the Fed, theWhite House, and theWorld like nowhere else. Subscribe to stay up-to-date on the biggest guests and the best analysis, all with the signature Trish Regan insight.
Past Guests include: STEVE FORBES JAIME ROGOZINSKI ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI
CONTENTS SEPTEMBER 2021 : ISSUE 52
Inside This Issue BY TRISH REGAN
40 Corona Wars
BY BUCK SEXTON
Democracy Is for Losers BY P.J. O'ROURKE
46 Made In the USA BY TRISH REGAN
Editor in Chief: P.J. O’Rourke Publisher: Trish Regan Managing Director: Jamison Miller Executive Editors: Kim Iskyan, Buck Sexton Managing Editor: Laura Greaver Creative Director: Erica Wood Contributing Editors: Andrew Amundson, Geoffrey Norman, Bill Shaw, John Stossel Cover Illustrator: Kevin Kallaugher Advertising: Paige Henson, Jill Peterson Editorial Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org Published by:
10 From Our Inbox
52 Coronavirus Censorship BY JOHN STOSSEL
BY KIM ISKYAN
56 H ow to Buy and Store Your Own Hoard of Gold BY BILL SHAW
24 One Bad Apple: A Conversation With P.J. O'Rourke BY ANDREWAMUNDSON
66 Featured Contributors
32 Teachers' Unions: Blackboard Bullies
BY GEOFFREY NORMAN
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American Co sequ nc s
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
DEMOCRA IS FOR LO
From Editor in Chief P.J. O’Rourke
e have just made a heartless, brutal, cowardly, traitorous, panicky shambles of an escape from
Afghanistan – with Joe Biden driving the getaway car. We had the time and the resources to make an orderly fighting retreat that could have protected our Afghan friends and allies. But...
Joe turned America chicken – turned us into a 50-foot-tall, 100-ton chicken that refused a chance to peck its way out of the barnyard when threatened by pint-sized Taliban weasels.
Is there a lesson to be learned from this? No.
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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Except for the eternal lesson about politicians. Here is a man elected on a platform of mushy love for humanity. And when things get tough, he turns out to have the same compassion for Afghan refugee families stuck in Kabul as his supposedly vicious, uncaring, and inhumane predecessor had for Latin American refugee families stuck on the border with Mexico. There’s only one thing I know for sure about democracy: The essence of a democratic system is not in how we win elections but in how we lose them. Politicians care about themselves. Politicians don’t care about other people. And the other people they don’t care about include you, the voters, as well as Afghans and undocumented immigrants. But we knew that. Is there, however, some other lesson we can learn from our 20 years of military involvement in Afghanistan (not to mention from our multidecade – sometimes multigenerational – military involvement around the world)? Unfortunately, yes. I say “unfortunately” because it’s a lesson we refuse to learn...
DEMOCRACY CANNOT BE IMPOSED
Democracy can’t be imposed because democracy is, by definition, a voluntary association of persons. Trying to impose democracy is like trying to impose love, which is a worthless endeavor. At its very worst, trying to impose democracy is like trying to impose sex, a horrible endeavor. There have been times when America’s democratic ideas have turned us into a global Andrew Cuomo. These are harsh words about democracy. But there are harsh words to be said, as well, about love and sex. That doesn’t mean we don’t treasure affection and intimacy. And so do we, rightly, treasure democracy. But love, sex, and majority rule have their proper times and places. We don’t love our children according to their standing in the Gallup Poll. The ballot box is not a dinner date. And the idea of sex with Congress is disgusting. Democracy requires certain necessary preconditions. Thousands of books have been written about those necessary preconditions and to what extent they involve history, religion, economics, sociology, familial structure, custom, and tradition. But apparently nobody has read these books. Everybody is clueless. What makes some countries democratic and others not? How long is a piece of string? There’s only one thing I know for sure about democracy: The essence of a democratic system is not in how we win elections but in how we lose them.
that’s what the hunter told you, you’re not in a democracy anymore. We are still in one, even if it sometimes feels like just barely. When I was a kid, the victorious tennis player jumped the net to shake hands with the vanquished. The loser didn’t rush over and try to raise the net and catch the winner in the crotch. The loser didn’t shout for his fans to come down out of the stands and rush the tennis court and maul the refs. And the winner didn’t stand there and, with the aid of his ball boys, keep firing 145 mph serves at the loser, his coaches, family and friends. The losers in a democratic election should know for certain that there will be a rematch. Otherwise they’re too likely to take their ball and go home. (And come back with a gun? It’s been known to happen.) It is my fondest hope that America will go back to losing gracefully, although Afghanistan didn’t set much of a precedent. Maybe whatever the terrible aftermath will be in that poor benighted nation will teach us, at least, that the Taliban is what you get when your country’s fools and fanatics don’t know how to lose.
Political democracy endures only in countries where politics isn’t the only game in town, where politics doesn’t control every aspect of life, where politics is kept in proportion as just one (preferably small) part of our existence. Except for (preferably rare) moments of true national crisis, politics is a sport. We get about as much out of “our candidate” winning as we do when “our team” wins the Super Bowl – which is a couple of celebratory beers that we pay for ourselves. And this is as it should be. The election stakes aren’t supposed to be too high. It isn’t supposed to feel like we’re taking a risk with the amount of political power that’s on the table, with one wrong bet meaning we wind up with an autocracy or dictatorship. Excessive partisanship is a political version of gambling addiction. There should be a National Helpline for people who think politicians are going to solve their problems. Call 1-800-VOTE-OFF. The losers in a democratic election should know for certain that there will be a rematch. Otherwise they’re too likely to take their ball and go home. (And come back with a gun? It’s been known to happen.) Winners should also keep that rematch in mind. A thin margin of victory shouldn’t be followed by a fat wad of policy radicalism. The contest should be played fairly, according to the rules, and the opponents should shake hands when it’s over. Democratic politics is a sport, but it isn’t a blood sport. The dead buck doesn’t give a hoof bump to the hunter. If
FROM OUR INBOX
All I can say is “I love American Consequences.” Keep up the good work!!! – Sherie M. P.J. O’Rourke Response: The feeling is mutual, Sherie. And we’ll try to keep our response concise and straight to the point, Carole. “We love you .” Re: Equal Defunding for All! Defund the Department of Sanitation PJ, that article gave me a good laugh in a week when there is nothing funny to laugh at... What were you drinking when you wrote the article? Clearly it was good stuff‼ Love your articles! – Mary M. P.J. O’Rourke Response: Glad to be of service, Mary. And all I was drinking was my usual morning cup of coffee. OK, OK... I admit it was Irish coffee. ”Waste Away” Simply HYSTERICAL... Well done! Keep that tongue well planted in that cheek. – Susan I. P.J. O’Rourke Response: Thank you, Susan. The older I get, the more planted in my cheek my tongue seems to get. Maybe it’s the “irony supplement” I take. Or maybe it’s just bad dentures. You tree huggers are nuts. Garbage is just that garbage. Leave it alone. The landfills do a good job to contain it. The sanitation dept. does not need to be bothered. – RoyW.
Re: Love Us? Hate Us? Trish, Although my inbox overflows with too many emails to open and read regularly, I try to keep up with your missives and issues of American Consequences. Your thoughtful analysis of the times we are in is a healthy guide to your audience. Thanks for the time and effort you and your staff put in to produce such great content. – Al C. Trish Regan Response: Great to hear, Al! I love that you’re reading everything. And I appreciate your feedback. PJ, A few paragraphs from you on a subject of your choice surgically pops the hot air balloons constantly coming out of Washington DC. Stay healthy, please. You are the Chairman of the Board of true media honesty, perhaps the last one alive... Thank you. – Edward P. P.J. O’Rourke Response: Thank you, Edward. But I think it will take more than my dull scalpel to puncture all the balloons that Washington sends up – most of which are full of stuff far more dangerous than hot air. Think “Hindenburg.” Then there’s the problem of what happens when a Hindenburg does start leaking. So I try to be careful in my work and not take any cigarette breaks. I am very pleased with the articles I read. They’re concise and get straight to the point. Thank you for providing me with the information I need to know. – Carole K.
P.J. O’Rourke Response: Dear Yvonne, thank you for your blessing, and our blessings right back at you and your husband! Yes, alas, your question is rhetorical. Being “woke” seems to mean having the ability to sleep with your eyes wide open. But here’s hoping, anyway, that the cold bath that is real life will wake some wokesters up. Re: The Unseen Costs of the War on Terror
P.J. O’Rourke Response: Speaking of irony, Roy... the Greek root of the word, eiron , means “liar.” Which is a fancy, academic way of saying I was pulling your leg. I was just being a smartass about where this craze for “defunding” municipal services could go if it went too far. I happen to love my garbagemen like brothers. Everybody around us – even our nearest and dearest – tend to add garbage to our lives. Garbagemen take it away ! It’s
noble job and a hard one, and I’m always sure to put a case of premium beer tied in a bow on top of my garbage cans at Christmas. “I think I love you!” Today’s defund the sanitation was hilarious but sad at the same time, like those morons who have learned too quickly that if you defund the police, you had better already owned defensive weapons. I am happily married (more than a quarter of a century) to a man who also has a great sense of humor. May God bless you and yours and keep all safe and healthy and thank you for starting my day with an excellent bit of sarcasm. Will the “Woke” every truly wake up? (Rhetorical, darn it anyway. Sigh) – Yvonne B.
Kim, I take exception to your assertion that the U.S. lost soft power by what you describe as “its wavering support for NATO, leaving the Paris Climate Agreement, and ending funding for the World Health Organization.” I don’t call it “wavering support” for NATO for the U.S. to insist that its NATO partners actually start paying their fair share (what they had pledged to pay, but hadn’t for decades) and wondering aloud if NATO were worthwhile if the countries most directly affected didn’t want to fund it and expected us to. Leaving the Paris Climate Accords made sense. We were reducing carbon emissions at a greater rate than called for by the Accords. No other nation was meeting its goals. Why should we be
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Kim Iskyan Response: Mike W., thanks for your e-mail. Soft power is about the medium as well as the message – and by not sticking up for NATO and by leaving the Paris Agreement (that is, abandoning the medium), the U.S. was signaling that it wasn’t interested in sitting at the front of the global table. Even if the U.S. has good reason to be exasperated with the rest of the world, it’s still – I’d argue – overwhelmingly in the best interest of America to play a big, central, and defining role in the organizations where the countries
in the Accords when all membership did was require us to pay the majority of its expenses? Why should the U.S. pay the majority of the funding for WHO when it apparently was lying about COVID for the Chinese and was effectively controlled by them? Other countries may have resented our ending the indiscriminate funding of their favorite organizations, since they now had to take up their fair share of the burden, but I think we gained increased influence and respect by showing the rest of the world that the U.S. would operate in its own interest, instead of just being Uncle Sugar for everyone else. Since the USwill never be loved, I’ll settle for being respected. – MikeW.
of the world come together to talk. And even if (as you suggest) the U.S.
operates in its own interest, if it does it as part of, rather than apart from, international organizations, its influence (in terms of soft power) will remain far greater than if it’s a lone wolf that turns its back on the rest of the world. You can influence others if you’re part of the group... If you’re in your own corner, it’s a lot more difficult. You are absolutely correct on the damage done to our privacy, but totally missed the ball in relation to two mentioned in passing – WHO and Paris Climate. Both of those are designed to steal our freedom. WHO is corrupt to the core. It is merely there to parrot the findings of those in control of the central governments of the world. As for Paris, simultaneity does NOT necessarily imply causality. Yes, call me a denier. When I was in high school, the boogeyman was the coming ice age. Then Paul Ehrlich and the coming true of Malthus. You need to see the pressures on our freedoms from all sides. – Tim P.
by an implied threat of coercion) by buying support through foreign aid or some other economic incentive. So maybe I agree with Mr. Iskyan in a way. By spending $9 trillion on the War on Terror, the U.S. has had less “soft power” to throw around. – David S. Kim Iskyan Response: David S., the point I was trying to make was that indeed, the War on Terror was extremely successful at preventing another 9/11. Jihadist terrorism is alive and well (unfortunately), but not in the U.S. While we can’t know if that’s thanks to the War on Terror or some other factor, I’d argue that it has played a pretty big role. Soft power refers to the ways of exerting influence via non-military, non-boots-on-the- ground ways (FYI, I wrote about soft power in more detail here.) Kim, Thank you for your insightful article of Sept 10, 2021. You addressed the issues defining the U.S. policy regarding conflict resolution and its effect on our country’s political, social, and credibility standing in a rapidly changing world. In my opinion, an important issue that is almost never included in our dialogue is the fact that since the 1950’s the U.S. has never completed a mission. This more than anything is robbing our society of its image of purpose, accomplishment, and credibility. – Paul H. Kim Iskyan Response: Paul H., thanks for your thoughts. There hasn’t been a kind of big “national project” for a long time (it’s before
Kim Iskyan Response: Tim P., every generation has its bogeyman, very much so. I think global thermonuclear destruction was the one of my generation... though terrorism in Spain in the 1970s and 1980s, when I was growing up there, was the main big deal. With respect to stealing freedom, I was trying to focus on the War on Terror – and WHO and the Paris Agreement are only tangentially part of that. But I’d bring them into a discussion on the broader issue of how American privacy is slowly eroding... though, to be honest, I see tech companies and Uncle Sam as the bigger challenges to the freedoms of Americans. In “The Unseen Costs of the War on Terror”, Kim Iskyan argues “in terms of the actual threat... no, [Americans had nothing to fear from Islamic terrorists]. According to think tank Brookings Institution, just 100 Americans have died in militant Islamist terrorist attacks since 9/11.” Doesn’t Mr. Iskyan seem a bit too eager to find proof that Islamic terrorism does not exist? The statistic cited by the Brookings Institution could be used to argue exactly the opposite... that the War on Terror was actually successful in preventing another 9/11. The author goes on to argue that the War on Terror, has caused the U.S. to lose “soft power”. He says “Soft power” is the ability of a country to influence – and convert the preferences and behavior of – other countries, companies, and communities by using attraction or persuasion... rather than through force or coercion. Soft power? Really? As long I can remember the U.S. has influenced other nations (if not
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CYBERAT THEWARWE ALL NEED TO BE AFRAID OF
ATTACKS By Kim Iskyan
If you’ve been paying attention... you know that (A) is credible. (B) may well be the case for fashion mavens... and (C) for the Hummer owners who need their wheels to drive to the local Kroger. And (D) – well, no. Biden’s words, which were part of a speech at the Office for the Director of National Intelligence (“ODNI”) – the entity that oversees the 18 (!) organizations that make up the American government’s intelligence community – were in fact in reference to (E), a cyber breach. “If we end up in a... real shooting war... it’s going to be as a consequence of __________________,” President Joe Biden said in late July. A. Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea B. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wearing white shoes after Labor Day C. The price of gas rising to more than $4/gallon D. Netflix hiking its subscription fees again E. A cyber breach
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Cyberattacks are so big, so mind-bending, awful, and frequent, that it’s easy to lose track – just like the name of last season’s biggest west coast wildfire... or which state was hit worst by the most recent devastating hurricane... or how many millions of acres of the Amazon were chopped down last month. It all blurs together. The below is a brief refresher of the highlights – lowlights – of just the past year, extracted from a terrifying timeline of cyber incidents put together by the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Johns Hopkins University... August 2021. T-Mobile suffered a data breach that led the hacker to access the personal details of more than 50 million people. July 2021. The United States, the European Union, NATO, and other world powers released joint statements condemning the Chinese government... They attributed responsibility to China for the Microsoft Exchange hack from early 2021 and the compromise of more than 100,000 servers worldwide. May 2021. The world’s largest meat processing company, Brazil-based JBS, was the victim of a ransomware attack. The attack shut down facilities in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. May 2021. The Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline in America, was the target of a ransomware attack. The energy company shut down the pipeline... March 2021. The head of U.S. Cyber
CYBERATTACKS GREATEST HITS In its Annual Risk Assessment report, released in April, ODNI explained that... Foreign states use cyber operations to steal information, influence populations, and damage industry, including physical and digital critical infrastructure... States’ increasing use of cyber operations as a tool of national power, including increasing use by militaries around the world, raises the prospect of more destructive and disruptive cyber activity. As states attempt more aggressive cyber operations, they are more likely to affect civilian populations and to embolden other states that seek similar outcomes. As the ODNI explained in its risk assessment report, “Although an increasing number of countries and nonstate actors have these capabilities, we remain most concerned about Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea”... It’s easy to deride the notion of (beware: oxymoron ahead) “government intelligence.” But the large and steadily increasing impact of cyberattacks – which are joining extreme weather as another kind of collateral damage of science and technology moving in toddler- going-after-a-bag-of-Skittles directions – is clear, dire, and severe. And it’s only going to get worse.
The U.S. still sees itself as a global superpower and Russia is unwilling to accept second-fiddle status. So while the U.S. considers Moscow a menace – meddling in elections, invading countries in Europe, backing dictators around the world – Moscow sees the U.S. as an arrogant colossus... With an economy the size of New York state, the most that Russia can realistically aspire to on the world stage is to play the role of spoiler. As Irish dramatist Oscar Wilde said, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” And if Russia can no longer hang with the big boys as the second global superpower... it wants to be talked about. The quick (only) way for Russia to be noticed is disruption – and as any adolescent will tell you, bad attention is better than none at all. Cyberwar is a stealth way to sow discord, undercut the foundations of democracy, cultivate confusion, and otherwise throw sand in the gears of America. And cyberwarfare is a lot easier than the real thing. At $30 million, the cost of one of the next-generation Russian fighter jets – the stealth fifth-generation Sukhoi “Checkmate” – can fund the lifestyles of a lot of socially awkward hackers who live with their mothers. Russia’s T-14 Armata tank costs around $4 million... a sum that can cause more damage – reputational and otherwise – than a thousand T-14s if funneled into cyberwarfare. Why are Russians so good at cyberattacks? I asked an old friend who’s written books about cyberattacks. He says it’s due to a
Command testified that the organization had conducted more than two dozen operations to confront foreign threats ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections... December 2020. More than 200 organizations around the world – including multiple U.S. government agencies – were revealed to have been breached by Russian hackers who compromised the software provider SolarWinds and exploited their access to monitor internal operations and exfiltrate data. The complete list includes 95 “significant incidents” (defined as cyberattacks on government, defense, and tech companies, or which cause losses in excess of $1 million) in 2021 so far... And the tally back to 2006 extends to 63 won’t-sleep-tonight pages. Who’s to blame? Two obvious candidates... and a third possibility that you won’t like... CYBERWAR ENEMY NO. 1: RUSSIA As the ODNI explained in its risk assessment report, “Although an increasing number of countries and nonstate actors have these capabilities, we remain most concerned about Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea”... The order in which those countries are listed isn’t accidental. The report continued, “We assess that Russia will remain a top cyber threat as it refines and employs its espionage, influence, and attack capabilities.”
Why is Russia throwing cyber darts at America? Global-affairs experts Gzero explained in June...
legacy of strong science-focused higher education, an entrepreneurial mindset (Russians are good at doing what has to be done), and a lack of legal constraints (in other words... flexible morality). (Interestingly enough, vodka and infinitely long, cold winters didn’t make his list.) CYBERWAR ENEMY NO. 2: CHINA “We assess that China presents a prolific and effective cyber-espionage threat, possesses substantial cyberattack capabilities, and presents a growing influence threat,” the ODNI wrote. All that data adds up. According to one estimate, China has much of the personal data on four of every five Americans... and it’s working on the last guy. China has ambitions that are markedly more ambitious than those of Russia. As China expert Rush Doshi explains in the recently released The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order , “the [Chinese Communist] Party now seeks to restore China to its rightful place in the global hierarchy.” China spent centuries at the top of the heap, and believes (knows) that it will eventually return... And it’s playing the long game to get back to the pinnacle of global power. While American politicians think in terms of electoral cycles, China plots in calendar blocks of centuries. Over the past few decades, China has been playing catch-up after a few
centuries of having fallen behind. And China is doing it in part through data – as much of it as it can get. As think-tank Rand Corporation explained last year... China is aggressively working toward becoming a global leader in big data analytics as part of its plan to achieve great power status... Beijing’s efforts are guided by a national big data strategy, an effort that encompasses economic, military, police, and intelligence functions. While Russia is content with throwing sand into the gears of the engine of the American – and global – economy, China is making a new engine to altogether overrun the earth... and it isn’t one that runs on oil. Back in 2014 – in what, at the time, was a spectacular data breach but which has since become mundane – China hacked into the U.S. governments’ Office of Personnel Management to collect personal information on more than 22 million federal workers, contractors, friends, and family. The next year, cyberthieves said to be in China – by the U.S. government – took the names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers of 78 million customers of health care insurer Anthem. When credit reporting agency Equifax was hacked two years later – by China again – credit information of 148 million Americans was the target. In 2018, a Marriott’s Starwood brand said that passport, credit-card, and other information on – wait for it – 500 million customers had been stolen by... yes, you know who. As recently as July, China was accused by
trace many of the cyberattacks to people in Russia, China, and friends (whether or not they’re government supported). The best scam is one that you don’t recognize until it’s over. And the best cyberattacks are ones that are untraceable. If you see the beehive, you can run away from it – but if the bees are swarming and you don’t know where they’re coming from, you’re done for. When Uncle Sam doesn’t know who to blame, cyber villains Russia and/or China are convenient scapegoats for what could well be the work of cyberattacks that come from within America. When Uncle Sam doesn’t know who to blame, cyber villains Russia and/or China are convenient scapegoats for what could well be the work of cyberattacks that come from within America. The American media doesn’t need much convincing that the bad guys are over there... And given the ability of the average journalist, or the average person, to discern the quality of cyber sleuth evidence, it would be easy to convince any doubters. White supremacists and other domestic terrorists aren’t known for their triple-digit IQs. But it only takes a few black-hat hackers holed up in a Wi-Fi-enabled cave in (insert name of an off-the-radar flyover state that you can never remember the capital of ) with Internet access to wreak havoc. Could these attacks – on America – emanate from America? Possibly. Would we find out
the U.S. and a bevy of allies of being behind an attack on e-mail software Microsoft Exchange, through which it stole e-mails, calendar data, files, contacts, and pretty much any other data that tens of thousands of businesses sent via Exchange. All that data adds up. According to one estimate, China has much of the personal data on four of every five Americans... and it’s working on the last guy. How is China going to use all this data? First, there’s the obvious and easy way: The Chinese government could use all it knows about you – yes, you... or, say, a person in a sensitive government, technology, or intelligence position who you might know – to get you to talk about whatever it believes you know and it wants to know. But that’s child’s play. The bigger picture is more scary, as National Public Radio explains... [U.S.] officials believe the Chinese gather this information to help them construct the informational mosaic they need to build world- class AI [artificial intelligence]... [which is] becoming the mechanism by which insurance rates are calculated, credit is given, mortgages are approved, and health care data is calculated. How will that affect you? Now’s the time to shudder... CYBERWAR ENEMY NO. 3: NO, IT COULDN’T BE America’s intelligence folk – who fancy themselves to be mighty intelligent – can
if so? Probably not. The rally-’round- the-flag effect of foreign baddies is too powerful for any American politician to dilute. But this suggests another question... Why isn’t America fighting back? Why aren’t we reading about the hacks by U.S. government spooks or American freelance hackers in the pocket of Uncle Sam of (say) Russian government employment databases... Chinese oil pipelines... North Korean missile systems? Why isn’t America fighting back? Why aren’t we reading about the hacks by U.S. government spooks or American freelance hackers in the pocket of Uncle Sam of (say) Russian government employment databases... Chinese oil pipelines... North Korean missile systems? Maybe it is happening, but it’s kept secret. But if so – why? Presumably there would be a big deterrent value (as in, other cyberwarriors would be less inclined to take on American cyber assets) in the American government claiming some big cyber kills. Junior hackers in North Korea, for example, may be less inclined to take on America if they know what happened to the last guy/country who tried. Or is America too moral, too high-standing, to strike back? Hah, doubtful... The moral compass of the government that brought us Abu Ghraib prison torture and ignored
lead-tainted water in Flint, Michigan and the Tuskegee syphilis study broke a long time ago. And in any case, there are no rules to cyberwarfare... The team that holds back because they don’t want to hurt the other guy too badly is the team that loses. IS IT GOING TO STOP? If cyberattacks were the action of just a few bad actors, then there might be a big come- together-and-sing-kumbaya global deal to prevent and fight cyberattacks. Of course that’s not going to happen, since cyberwarfare is, well, war . There is no common good... there’s only winning, or losing. And even the good guys (a definition adjusted according to whose side you’re on) wouldn’t want to limit themselves in a kind of cyber–Geneva Convention since, well, it’s war, right? IT’S TIME TO BE AFRAID We – as in, humankind, including (or maybe especially) those who are best placed to understand all the bad things that might hurt us – are terrible (unlucky?) at forecasting risk. The World Economic Forum, (“WEF”) an international organization that hosts the Davos Forum, each year releases a report on the biggest risks the world faces. It compiles the Global Risk Report by surveying smart people in government, business, civil society, and elsewhere. Disappointingly (but not surprisingly), “infectious diseases” didn’t make the top 5
a measure devised by the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union that assesses the legal, technical, organizational and other cybersecurity dimensions of 193 countries, the U.S. is the gold standard of cybersecurity. It’s ranked first, followed by the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Estonia (which has come under frequent cyberattack from Russia). Pulling up the rear are Eretria and North Korea. If cyberattacks were the action of just a few bad actors, then there might be a big come-together- and-sing-kumbaya global deal to prevent and fight cyberattacks. That might sound reassuring. But don’t be reassured... The U.S. might be, by some measures, more prepared for cyberattacks than other countries... but as the seemingly endless series of cyber hack shows, that doesn’t mean you should use “password” as your password. In fact, just the opposite, as an opinion piece in The Hill explained... If a full on “turn the lights off” cyberwar were to happen today, we [the U.S.] would lose. Think about that. We would lose a cyberwar. With a few clicks of the mouse, and in just a few seconds, hackers in Beijing or Moscow could turn off our electricity, millions would lose heat, groceries would spoil, banking machines would not work, and people could not get gasoline.
of risks – in terms of neither likelihood nor impact, the two parameters the WEF uses – in 2019... or 2018... or 2017... or 2016 (it made it as No. 2 for impact in 2015). So the risk-aware folk failed at even getting a sniff of what’s been the biggest economic, political, social, and everything-else risk in generations. Instead, the No. 1 biggest risk in terms of likelihood over the past five years: Extreme weather. The biggest risk by impact in the 2021 report is – the horse has long since left the stable and is running down the road to find that cute mare – infectious diseases. What this means is that the fact that cyberattacks didn’t crack the top of the chart for 2021 is hardly reassuring. And the big one is coming, as Kevin Mandia, the CEO of cybersecurity company FireEye, told news service Axios in February... Apps won’t work. Appliances may not work. People don’t even know all the things they depend on. All of a sudden, the supply chain starts getting disrupted because computers don’t work... Of course, Mandia is talking his book (the head of a cybersecurity company is about as likely to tell people not to worry about cybersecurity as Hershey’s is to remind people that sugar and candy is actually bad for you). But his warnings aren’t wrong... UNCLE SAM CAN’T HELP Anyway, though, Americans – sheltered by powerful Uncle Sam – will be alright... right? According to the Global Cybersecurity Index,
Even if that hasn’t happened – yet – the skirmishes are already here, and they’re causing real damage. An estimate by Cybersecurity Ventures – again, an industry source, so take it with a nugget of salt – suggests that cybercrime in 2021 will cause damages of $6 trillion on the global economy (enough to make it, by value, the third-largest economy in the world). And it can only get worse, as Wired magazine explained in 2019 – and, indeed, it’s only gotten worse since then... Not “if”... but “when.” Because cyberattacks – on infrastructure, on databases, on companies, on you – are getting worse... and it’s happening right now. The U.S. and other world powers still haven’t realized that they have more to lose in an exchange of scorched-earth cyberattacks than to gain. Until they do, the cyberwar machine will roll onward, with nothing less than the infrastructure of modern civilization in its destructive path. At this point it’s even unclear which would be worse: The “real shooting war,” or the cyberattack that precedes, or causes, or comes after it. DO THIS NOW There are a few things you can do to prepare if – when – it happens. For starters (you know
this, but anyway), use strong – and different, across devices and websites – passwords. Never keep the default password (but you don’t, do you?). Keep your devices up to date, so that you have recent security updates and patches installed. Back up your files (everywhere – the cloud, a removable hard drive, a thumb drive you keep around your neck). Even better, encrypt it... It’s not that difficult and it could save you a lot of grief. Download and save (and, if you’re really old school, print out) information like bank statements. Have a hard copy of important phone numbers. Those fun Facebook quizzes that ask you the name of the street where you grew up... your first pet’s name... where you met your spouse... It’s interesting how similar those are to the security questions that your bank asks you online to confirm that it’s you, isn’t it? Keep your personal information to yourself . And IT administrators: Train your users with more than all-caps warnings. Launch fake phishing attacks so that employees know what to look out for. Try to trick your own people – and if they don’t fall for it, chances are they’ll be better equipped to sniff out the real thing if it happens. Not “if ”... but “when.” Because cyberattacks – on infrastructure, on databases, on companies, on you – are getting worse... and it’s happening right now.
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A CONVERSATIONWITH P.J. O’ROURKE
School’s back in session, everyone. Did you buy enough rainbow pencil sharpeners, teletherapy family gift cards, and N95 masks? (Just kidding – you can’t get those.) 2021’s the year we try to revive American education – this and a generation of children, all falling casualty to misguided policies and petty partisanship. We left learning and their young minds as neglected as their discarded Chromebooks on families’ living room floors, with the muffled sounds of a 26-year-old grad student trying to eke out minimum wage dribbling out of their pink headphones on yet another Zoom call. But before corona, Delta, or the inevitable Omega, there’s always been plenty wrong with America’s classrooms. The dismal pay of educators and lack of essential resources is contrasted with the overgenerous compensation of admin... interwoven with the stranglehold of professional mediocrity enforced by the teachers’ unions.
American education was already a mess... And last year nearly killed it.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE WEB VERSION By AndrewAmundson
ONE BAD APPLE
And now, with mask mandates either enforced or banned by the states, we have posh private school parents and MAGA types joined together (finally) in a war over Critical Race Theory, and in all this fresh hell, the children gaze down at their devices, lost in the shuffle. As Mark Twain always said, never let a pandemic get in the way of a proper interview ... Heeding the words of this literary beast, I sat down with another guru to try to decipher the wicked core of American miseducation: Our esteemed Editor in Chief P.J. O’Rourke, who dripped this maxim... Never let politics interfere with a classroom . It starts with cliques in high school and ends with a Holocaust. And here we are, America. This year, the virus of politics and a politicized COVID-19 will be on roll call with our (grand)sons and (grand)daughters in grade schools... Meanwhile, college remains a bloated, money-hemorrhaging vampiric business while most adults in the country can’t even agree on what reality is anymore. All this considered, I thought it was time for P.J. to school some wits into you... It may not help, but it will hurt.
A KINDER GARDEN If you ask P.J. what the apple of knowledge is, he’ll claim it’s all distilled to awareness . P.J. O’Rourke: You need to be aware of everything : science, math, literature, and most crucially, history. You don’t need to understand all these, and certainly not in detail. Nobody’s that much of a polymath. But you have to acknowledge that they exist, and you have to grasp a few of the fundamental rules and precepts. And you don’t have to know all of history, but you have to know that it’s there and that maybe you need to know how to look it up. And not just on Google. And if you were to try and put your finger on one precedent of what makes a well-educated person, it’s someone who knows what they don’t know. AndrewAmundson: Do you put much stock in an academic pedigree? Do you care, either way, if someone went to Harvard or Yale? P.J.: Aside from maybe picking some possibly valuable social contacts, it’s meaningless. You can always find those hanging around bars, too.
AA: Favorite teacher(s)?
P.J.: I’m not sure it matters that much. My theory on college and high school, and for that matter, grade school, or getting a PhD, is that you come across two or three teachers that have a real influence on you. And that could be your music teacher... it may be the theater-arts teacher. It may not have anything to do with what you end up doing in life. I mean, for me, it was a
literature professor in college, Dr. David Frazier, that shook me out of my fog of girls and beer and said, “The way you write, you could do something with this,” and pointed me toward essential things to read. He and his wife paid a lot of personal attention to me, and it was a godsend. And there was a scary 8th-grade teacher Miss Geiger – an absolute bug for grammar. You may not have liked her, but you couldn’t get through Miss Geiger’s class without understanding sentence diagrams and the fundamentals of grammar. And for that, I am eternally grateful. AA: How do you feel about Critical Race Theory or curriculums potentially or in reality getting politicized for kids? Are eight- year-olds going to start identifying as Dems or Republicans? P.J.: First and foremost, it’s a terrible distraction and a waste of time. You’ve only got a certain amount of time with kids in two senses – school only goes on for so long, and kids’ attention spans, even when they’re in college, are limited. So on two levels, you have a limited amount of time with a kid as a teacher. And it’s paramount to use that time well. Wandering off into the wilderness of political or social theories is a waste of those precious hours. Nazi Germany tested Critical Race Theory with absolutely horrifying results. The Chinese are doing it with Muslim Uighurs. People are individuals – you cannot divide them into arbitrary groups according to hair color, skin color, or religious beliefs. It’s poisonous, and the results are disastrous.
ILLITERATI P.J. will contend that one of his best educations was on the floor of the National Lampoon magazine in the 1970s: the watershed comedic tour-de-force publication birthed by some of the darkest minds at Harvard. Before this, while getting his MA in English circa 1970, he claims the point of [his] writing was to be as incomprehensible as possible, which he could do in his sleep... But as he puts it, “Turns out it’s hard to make a living with incomprehensibility.” But parody gave him clarity.
There was always a golden rule at the Lampoon or Weekly Standard – nobody is so good that we shouldn’t edit them.
It was at Lampoon where P.J. reckoned with the form and concentration required to mock something properly . For him, satirizing was a mechanical exercise focusing on how the springs and levers of ideas and syllables fall together, likening it to deconstructing and reverse engineering an alarm clock, albeit with the watch-face mischievously scrambled and gears scattered in its wake. AA: Do parody and satire have their limits? P.J.: There was this girl in my freshman English class in college who came back from an assignment to read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal [a satire featuring the human trafficking and cannibalism of poor
ONE BAD APPLE
The friend of the enemies of social media is tedium. I hope it gets boring for everyone, and people realize they’re not getting anything out of it – other And in this increasingly fraught and angry atmosphere in America, that approach doesn’t work as well. It should speak to a moral part of the audience that they maybe hadn’t recognized or considered... Jonathan Swift was trying to draw attention to the tragic situation on the next island over, just miles away in a place ruled by Britain. And his text was the wake- up call. AA: Do you think everyone now is convinced that they’re a writer? Anyone can self-publish on Amazon, and all tweets or posts are technically than backlash from strangers and family. Irish children] . She was just in tears at how horrible this thing was. You know, a nice little farm girl from No place, Ohio. So there’s a chance that people won’t get it. But the limitation with satire (beyond missing the joke) is that it forces the audiences to contend with a moral point-of-view. It’s all about making a point.
P.J.: We’ve lowered the quality bar, for sure. I’m not certain how it could get much lower than Twitter. But I gather from things like TikTok that it can. Everybody’s an artist. Everybody’s self-realized. And, of course, nobody is edited. Listen, editors perform an essential function. And it’s not just amateur digital-content creators who are guilty of this – some of the older, more established, venerable newspaper columnists prove that point. There are lots of novelists who deserve an ax-wielding to their book. ZEITGEISTWARS AA: You’re a child of the ‘60s. I’ve thought about the hippies of Haight-Ashbury or Woodstock before and how they relate to the social-justice “wokesters” of today. How would you contrast these two? P.J.: If you’re looking for the key to the hippie-dippy movement, it was about drugs, not Vietnam. Of course, we didn’t want to go to the war in Vietnam. We were having a wonderful time. The woke trend is an offshoot of 1960’s social movements with an extreme political bent: The Weathermen, the Black Panthers.
AA: Abbie Hoffman?
P.J.: I suppose Abbie, but Abbie’s behavior with girls would get him canceled these days. I knew him – he was a severe Leftist but a fun guy. And that doesn’t seem to be part of the program these days, to be a fun guy... Or even to be a guy.
digital publications. Are you worried about the state of the English language in 2021, and is there still hope?
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