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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "America"

Trump’s brutal response to the riots puts him closer to the people than his liberal opponents

Donald Trump is a quintessentially American figure. He speaks for millions of people and has democratic legitimacy: he won an election.

It would be an error to brush these points aside when reacting to the President’s comments on the riots. His manners may, as ever, leave something to be desired.

There is often something repulsive in his tone, as when he tweeted of the protesters outside the White House:

 “Nobody came close to breaching the fence. If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action.”

In an earlier tweet he used the expression “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, a phrase which could be traced back half a century to Walter Headley, chief of police in Miami, who in 1967 declared:

“There is only one way to handle looters and arsonists during a riot and that is to shoot them on sight. I’ve let the word filter down: When the looting starts the shooting starts.

This harsh doctrine divided opinion in 1967, and divides opinion now. But if one declares that only brutes and racists believe in shooting looters, one commits a political blunder.

During the 2011 London riots, I found myself discussing how to regain control of the streets with one of the kindest and gentlest people I know, a man of immigrant descent, a devout member of the Roman Catholic Church and a firm supporter of the Labour Party.

He replied that anyone on the streets should be shot.

“But what if they only went out to buy a pint of milk?” I objected.

“I don’t care,” he said. “They shouldn’t be on the streets.”

The riots terrified him, so he called for stern measures, regardless of the injustices these would entail.

It is generally noticeable that the nearer a riot gets to someone’s house, the more authoritarian he or she becomes.

The President understands this. In another tweet, which included a swipe at Joe Biden, his rival in this year’s presidential election, Trump demanded:

“Get tough Democrat Mayors and Governors. These people are ANARCHISTS. Call in our National Guard NOW. The World is watching and laughing at you and Sleepy Joe. Is this what America wants? NO!!!”

In any difficulty, Trump looks around for someone else to blame, and makes unsubstantiated allegations against them. The great denouncer of fake news himself disseminates fake news to his 81 million Twitter followers.

It is easy to become so angered by his behaviour that one overlooks his cunning. He wants his opponents to fly into a rage and hurl moral condemnations at him, for he calculates that while condemning him, they will imply that anyone who voted for him is  a disgrace to humanity.

That is the trap into which Hillary Clinton plunged when she said “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables”, went on to describe them as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, islamaphobic—you name it”, and added that “thankfully they are not America”.

Fatal words. Who is she to decide who is an American and who is not? People see in the liberals a bunch of hypocrites who have no interest in their fellow citizens, but wish to use their superior morality as a club with which to beat their compatriots into submission.

Trump begins, in these circumstances, to look attractive. He too is looked down upon by these grand and prosy liberals. He too knows what it is like to be scorned for being fat and never having read the right books, or indeed any books.

Herbert Butterfield identified, in The Whig Interpretation of History, the tendency of Whig historians to see the history of England as a glorious progress towards ever greater freedom.

Someone should write a similar essay on the liberal interpretation of American history, in which everything that does not form part of a glorious progress towards ever greater liberalism is treated as an anomaly which somehow does not count.

One of the odd things about this interpretation is that the liberals are at the same time anxious to emphasise all the shameful aspects of American history, including the horror of slavery, and the failure for a hundred years after the Civil War to ensure that liberated African Americans enjoyed equal rights with poor white southerners.

This looks like, indeed is, a grave inconsistency. But through every exploration of this perplexing history runs a guiding thread. In the eyes of the liberal historians, their moral superiority, their right to judge, remains self-evident.

No one can write, say, a Confederate history of the United States, a lament for the lost code of the Virginia gentleman, without being driven out of decent society. The only question, debated with ineffable earnestness, is whether the Confederate statues should be torn down.

Yet Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe were all from Virginia, and without them the United States would not exist. One of the pleasures of writing a volume of brief lives of all the American presidents, published in March, was spending time with these remarkable men.

The election in 1828 of Andrew Jackson, a born fighter who represented the ruthless and brutish strain in American life, was the first of many revenges taken by outsiders, men of whom polite society did not approve, but who had what it took to win a raucous, vacuous and demeaning presidential campaign.

Trump is the most recent of these vengeful outsiders. He came as a dreadful shock to the liberals, who had studied neither his predecessors in American history, nor the state of mind of his supporters.

In From the Other Shore, Alexander Herzen examined the failure of the European revolutions of 1848, and gave this account of the 18th-century origins of liberalism:

“The thought of the injustice of the social order, the thought of equality, flashed like an electric spark through the best minds of the last century. In a bookish, theoretical way, men realised the injustice of the times, and tried to redress it, bookishly. This tardy repentance on the part of the minority was called liberalism. In a genuine desire to reward the people for thousands of years of humiliation, they declared it sovereign, demanded that every peasant should become a political person…abandon his work, that is, his daily bread, and…concern himself with general matters. To the question of daily bread liberalism did not give much serious thought. It is too romantic to trouble itself with such gross requirements. It was easier for liberalism to invent the people than to study it.”

Something like this has happened in the United States. American liberals have a fervent belief in equality, and will do everything they can for the American people short of spending any time with them, when it might become possible to ascertain what the people actually want.

The liberals seem to have espoused, in the name of the people, a morality which has the unfortunate effect of cutting them off from the people. Trump with his brutal intuitions fills the resulting gap.

Nobody knows what will happen in the presidential election on Tuesday 3rd November. But it is rather extraordinary that after making such a hash of his response to the Coronavirus, Trump is still in with a chance of a second term.

Andrew Gimson is the author of Gimson’s Presidents.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Anthony Browne: We can and must strike a US trade deal that protects animal welfare

Anthony Browne is MP for South Cambridgeshire, and Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Environment.

What are the limits of free trade? The question has divided Conservative MPs, in particular on whether animal welfare provisions should be included in new trade agreements.

Some MPs have called for animal welfare to be inserted in trade deals. Others say it would be a return to the Corn Laws, splitting the party between protectionists and free traders.

It is great that we can debate and decide this nationally – a result of Brexit.

I am a free trader the whole way. Our prosperity has been built up over the centuries by being able to sell and buy goods and services nationally and internationally. Free trade has been the most powerful wealth-creating engine the world has ever seen.

But free trade and free enterprise are like chocolate and alcohol – life-enhancing, but not in their purest forms. Everyone agrees that free enterprise only works if backed by state-enforced property rights. All mainstream politicians accept that free enterprise brings most benefits when tempered by consumer, competition, environmental, and employment protection laws.

The same is true for free trade. Like free enterprise, to work best it needs some tempering. For example, some believe that unilateral removal of all external tariffs will boost our economies most. That is true in some cases – for example, for products we have no domestic producers of, coming from countries we are not about to negotiate a trade deal with.

But giving up tariffs on goods from a country that we are entering trade talks with removes a key negotiating lever. The Government has recognised this in its new global system of tariffs, keeping some tariffs to help get better deals.

On animal welfare, some claim it is protectionist to insist that imports meet the standards we require in the UK. The high profile issue is chlorinated chicken from the US. Chlorinated chicken is safe to eat – we put chlorine in our water supply – but the reason that the chicken meat needs to be washed in chlorinated water is that its low welfare standards leads to higher rates of infection. Low welfare standards enable US chicken producers to cut costs by as much as 20 per cent, potentially enabling them to undercut producers in the UK who bear the cost of higher standards.

If allowing cheaper imports of chicken produced with lower welfare standards meant that chicken production moved from the UK to the US wholesale, then it might save shoppers money on their grocery bills, but it would be bad for animal welfare and food security. In fact, it is entirely counterproductive: we might as well never have had the higher standards in the UK but rather kept the chicken production.

In this example, free trade does not lead to greater economic efficiency, but rather lower standards. Free trade delivers growth because it drives resources to more efficient producers – those with higher skills, better technology, better infrastructure or natural resources – who then produce more and grow. But if competitive advantage is based purely on having lower standards, then free trade leads to a race to the bottom. It is called regulatory arbitrage.

The challenge is that animal welfare has no explicit economic value. Like clean water and air, it is what economists call an “externality”. But it is clearly something as a country we value, since we have been prepared to pay for more expensive meat as a result of imposing higher welfare standards. Economists could put a monetary value on it by calculating how much more consumers would pay for higher animal welfare produce. But in the UK, we do not have mandatory labelling showing welfare standards, so consumers cannot make a fully informed choice.

Between the two extremes – full free trade and bans on low standard products – there is a middle way. We can use the tariff system to reward producers in other countries who follow higher welfare standards, and prevent those that follow lower standards from getting unfair competitive advantage. That would prevent food producers from being forced into a race to the bottom.

The issue is most acute with the US, both because it is such an important trade deal and because their animal welfare standards are so much lower than the UK’s.

Britain was the first country in the world to introduce slaughterhouse regulation and farm welfare requirements in the late Victorian and the early Edwardian period, and these have evolved since. Countries like Australia and New Zealand implemented broadly similar laws. However, the United States, having broken away far earlier in its history, ended up following different animal welfare standards. In the US, the concept of legally protecting the welfare of farm animals has been controversial.

With little action from the US government, a plethora of private accreditation schemes have sprung up. These have been consumer-driven, and companies like McDonald’s have been instrumental in getting many US farmers to adopt standards that are similar to the UK’s. The larger US food companies, such as Tyson and Cargill, recognised that they needed to embrace this agenda, and produce much of their food to accredited standards.

We can use this to prevent regulatory arbitrage on animal welfare by giving preferential access to food produced to standards that are similar to those in the UK. Produce made to those existing accredited standards could then be imported tariff free, with tariffs imposed on non-accredited food produced to lower standards. At the same time, we should also reform British labelling laws so that consumers can assess the welfare standards their meat is produced to.

The Department for International Trade rightly worries that welfare standards might undermine getting a deal at all. But the benefit of this tariff approach is that it could get the support of the major US food producers, making a deal easier. It would also be legal under WTO rules, since it is not a ban based on welfare standards, but a tariff differential. There is a precedent in the EU’s High Quality Beef quota, which gives tariff-free access to non-hormone treated beef from the US. The concept could just be broadened.

Such an approach would enhance animal welfare globally, stop British farmers being undercut by regulatory arbitrage, improve consumer choice, and boost free trade.

Protecting animal welfare is highly valued in the UK, and the Conservatives promised in our manifesto that we wouldn’t compromise on our high standards as we negotiate trade deals. If we put our mind to it, we can agree modern trade deals that both promote free trade and protect British values.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Nat Wei: How the internet could have been used to protect lives and livelihoods during this crisis. And how we can do better.

Lord Wei is a Conservative member of the House of Lords. He is a co-founder of Teach First, a social entrepreneur, and a former government adviser.

Dominic Cummings famously admires America’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and rightly has sought to create an equivalent organisation here in the UK.

But one not always recognised fact is that DARPA was instrumental to the creation of the internet, which in turn was based on technologies designed to enable global military communications to function even in the face of global catastrophes, such as nuclear war – or indeed pandemics.

We have Paul Baran, an engineer at RAND in the 1960s, to thank for getting the wheels in motion:

“Baran cooked up a system that could divide communications into tiny pieces and use distributed network “nodes” to pass these pieces around. If one node was knocked out, the others could pick up the slack. In 1964, he published a paper on this system – entitled “On Distributed Communications” – and a few years later, it would play into the development of the ARPAnet, the research network that would eventually morph into the modern internet.”

We need to count our blessings that the pandemic, at least in the West, has occurred at a time of widespread fixed and mobile access to the internet, with video calling and conferencing widespread, save in some rural areas.

Millions of families and individuals are getting (further) acquainted with the likes of zoom, houseparty, and their local and national online supermarket websites – and beyond this we are seeing an explosion of online workout sessions, church services and content, and health and education consultations and learning.

But we could have gone even further by now, and lessened the impact of this crisis to our society and particularly to livelihoods.

First, in business, we could have innovated further to enable all our local shops to have delivery services, and the ability to beam content to draw in virtual as well as physical footfall, and even enable automation and remote displays to serve the public even if one is forced to have staff work from home or elsewhere, whilst training up all staff to do better paid work managing and using the machines brought in.

Second, we could have designed our buildings to be even more intelligent than they are now, to protect us from threats such as pandemics, to have anti-viral sanitation built into their operations whether through air conditioning systems, far UV lighting, and in the way spaces are laid out – and we could have focused more on building offsite, in better controlled environments, rather than building as we always have done, largely to save costs.

Third, we could have applied the design of the internet to the way government works, what back in the day Big Society meant for me (not primarily as was widely reported, a way of harnessing volunteers, important and awe-inspiring as the voluntary response has been). This pandemic has shown the centralised government decision making and operations can be clunky, slow, and not always aware fast enough of changing situations which are the norm now in our volatile world – despite the heroic efforts of our leaders and frontline workers.

Fourth, our healthcare systems clearly need to be less centralised in future, since hospitals themselves are a source of infection. More emphasis could have been put on local delivery of services, drugs, and even training up patients and those caring for them to provide treatment using mobile medical equipment and remote consultation. Never again must we be in a race against time to prevent hospitals running out of beds, or put pressure on them to free up beds, nor must we ration testing in future, but make testing the norm even after this pandemic.

Fifth, our financial and business sectors also, for all the innovation in fintech and e-commerce, could have been even further advanced. In future there must be ways for governments and the Bank of England to be able to directly wire funds to citizens and businesses with real time information flowing back and forth. Instead we have been forced to use systems that were not designed for the situation we are in, to try to alleviate quickly the pressure on millions of people.

And, finally, as someone who works in Parliament, which laudably has fought to maintain face to face contact over centuries, we too need to look at how the internet can be harnessed to enable more remote debating, amending, and voting when necessary, as well as to engage the public beyond the usual lobby groups, and for the Lords at least to be like a legislative Wikipedia, in which we pull together to create laws that are just, measured, and which work on the ground.

Why, you might ask, have we not pursued a more aggressive application of the internet and its decentralised approach to our society, to better prepare for situations like this? Well, there are lots of reasons and we will no doubt uncover more over the coming years. Partly it is because we did not think a pandemic would happen (at least not in the way it has). Partly because of cost. Partly because change is hard. And partly because most of the money was focused more on funding Facebook, and Netflix, rather than the above. We basically got distracted.

Our local music school has had to shut recently, like many organisations. It turns out that the tutors could mostly carry on and make a living from one to one tuition online, but the school itself was sustained from group sessions, which have stopped.

I checked online, and up until a few years ago there was great software being worked on to enable live jam sessions, where multiple musicians could play together remotely. But many of the businesses and startups working on this ran out of funds for lack of interest.

Amidst the tragedy and death unfolding, and huge pressures on the NHS ,whose staff are heroes who we must protect and backup; and amidst the financial earthquakes reverberating around the world, we need as a nation and as a world, to make a bold decision to rebuild after this pandemic has peaked – harnessing all that is good about how the internet works – to rise out of the ruins of our old way of life and build a new, more resilient one.

And we need to remember the internet is a gift from above that we must not waste again, but harness it and the approach to design inherent in it, to allow us to weather and overcome other future shocks with both humility and strength.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Blood tests at airports, robot microbe killers, and attendants in PPE: How Covid-19 will affect the future of travel

With summer emerging, many around the world are wondering when they will next get to travel.

“Not soon” seems to be the answer, though. 

Indeed, many tourism experts and stakeholders are immensely sceptical about the industry, thanks to Covid-19.

Even optimistic assessments suggest the sector will be out of action until 2021.

So what exactly can Brits expect to see?

Enhanced screening

Just as 9/11 had a big impact on airport security, so will Covid-19 on hygiene measures.

Already, many airports have taken steps to curb the spread of the disease, such as one to two metre distancing at all times, hand sanitisers being widely distributed and people encouraged to use electronic check-in kiosks, so as to avoid human interaction.

More advanced airports have used “thermal detection screening” to look for the disease (although this does not work when people are asymptomatic).

Hong Kong International Airport is testing a fully-body disinfectant device, which sanitises users within 40 seconds, using sprays that kill bacteria and viruses on skin and clothing.

In addition, the airport is using autonomous cleaning robots – which trawl its premises, and kill microbes by zapping them with ultraviolet light.

There are suggestions that such measures could get much stricter, with flight attendants wearing Personal Protective Equipment and blood tests for passengers.

Even more futuristic predictions suggest there could be such a thing as “immunity passports”, allowing some people to travel where they like – as long as they have Covid-19 antibodies.

What does this mean for travellers?

Given the extent to which airports are likely to be changed, the question is whether passengers will want the hassle of flying – especially if they are subjected to invasive screening.

It is contingent on several factors…

The economic impact of Coronavirus

Hopeful analysts suggest that fares will continue to stay low, as airlines are keen to get other customers back on board.

Others say the complete opposite; that the disruption will massively hike up costs.

One reason for this is that major events tend to force struggling airlines to consolidate.

Before 9/11 there were nine major US airlines, for instance, but they eventually became Delta, United, American and Southwest.

Competition is a big part of driving prices down – so when companies merge it can translate into bigger expenses for the consumer.

Another aspect that could increase prices is a reduction in business travel.

With so many companies adapting to Zoom conferencing and other working from home methods, they may not be so keen to resume working abroad.

Many such organisations are involved in bulk-buying seats on planes, which in turn leads to cheaper flights for everyone else.

Without them, costs are likely to rise.

All of this will be exacerbated by airlines need to space out seats on flights – decreasing their business – while they have to invest heavily in new safety measures.

This, paired with presumably high insurance costs in the future, will no doubt make travelling too expensive for a lot of people.

Risk factors

There’s another reason why people will or won’t want to go abroad. 

Quite simply, are they willing to take the risk?

Perhaps it’ll be the case that some countries are more, or less, risk averse than others in their attitude to Covid-19.

Maybe regions with younger citizens, who have a lower probability of becoming seriously ill, will fly around much more – going on “bucket list” adventures, to make the most out of the freedoms they once took for granted.

All remains to be seen.

But it seems less likely that travellers will take weekend breaks.

With the likelihood of enhanced airport measures, potential increases in fares and many countries imposing a 14-day quarantine period (the UK doing this recently – with talk of fines of up to £10,000 for those who break the rules), the effort will not be worth it.

Is there any hope of a holiday?

In the meantime, it seems that domestic travel will shoot up.

According to CabinBookers, 90 per cent of Brits want to go on holiday in the UK when lockdown ends.

There are reports that farmers have been looking to diversify their land for such purposes.

Many Britons have also been excited by the prospect of the UK not imposing quarantine plans on France, even booking holidays accordingly.

Although this idea appeared to be scuppered shortly afterwards.

Oliver Dowden has said the details were not yet confirmed, adding that exemptions were mostly “to keep the economy going.”

Grant Shapps has also told MPs that final details of the quarantine scheme will be confirmed next month, Britons should probably not get their hopes up until then.

But it’s difficult not to when other countries have been allowing movement across regions.

New Zealand and Australia, for instance, have installed what’s known as a “trans-Tasman travel bubble”, and Baltic states have had “travel bubbles” too.

The European Union wants to see similar movement around other nations, and Italy is positive; businesses in Santorini have installed perspex screens around sun loungers to promote social distancing among travellers.

All of this ultimately depends on how badly each region has been affected by the crisis.

Long-term prospects for travel

While the future looks rather depressing for travel, it’s not obvious if Covid-19 will change it to the extent that 9/11 did.

In the short-term, everyone will face much more heightened checks at airports.

But these may only last for the next few years – depending on if a vaccine is found, and/or how much of the global population becomes infected.

Considering the amount of concern climate change has sparked over the last few years, these months (and probably years) off travelling may spark big changes overall.

Scientists will be able to demonstrate how much air travel cuts carbon emissions. 

These have already reduced by 17 per cent, as a result of Covid-19, and people might want to keep that down going forward.

Perhaps the only real certainty across time is that the desire for travel is always there.

Following SARS, Ebola and terrorist attacks, the industry has always rebounded.

When, not if, is the question whose answer no one truly knows…

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Sunder Katwala: Strengthing social capital in more deprived areas during the age of Coronavirus

Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future, which is the secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Social Integration.

The lockdown has affected us all. It has a good claim to be the most shared national experience in the 75 years since the Second World War ended. We have all been subject to the same legal restrictions on so many of the simple things that we could take for granted a few weeks ago.

Yet our experiences of the pandemic have also been very different: for those learning to home-school children or others living alone; for those working from home while others go out to keep essential services going; and for the quarter of the workforce placed on furlough who wait anxiously to hear when key sectors of the economy might begin to reopen.

Amidst the human tragedy of the lives lost, the pandemic has illuminated many strengths of civic commitment in Britain today. There has been a broader social consensus on the short-term public and policy response to the pandemic in Britain than in Donald Trump’s America – and, maybe less predictably, than in Germany too. This casts doubt on the idea that British society has been inexorably polarised by the political arguments of recent years.

Yet there will be significant challenges in a new economic and social context to ensure that the response to the crisis does not mainly strengthen social connection in the areas where it is already strong.  That is a key message in a new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Social Integration today, reflecting on the initial experiences of those trying to reach the socially isolated during the Covid-19 crisis, and the lessons for the transition out of lockdown and beyond.

It finds much innovation in the crisis, emphasising the importance of thinking about how human contact can be part of the offer of practical help awhile maintaining social distancing. It can be an unsatisfactory experience when “the shopping is there, but the person isn’t” as Professor Dominic Abrams of the University of Kent notes.

Digital exclusion was a serious issue before the pandemic, but the Coronavirus crisis has raised the stakes significantly, with many vital services primarily available online.  There are still five million adults – around one in ten – who are not online. Twice as many lack the skills and confidence to navigate the online world effectively.

As Peter Gibson, the MP for Darlington, notes, the old-fashioned methods of communication, the phone call and the knock on the door, remain vital to ensure that nobody is excluded.  There are many good schemes recycling donated laptops and phones to those who need them, and these need to be supplemented with ‘Digital champion’ schemes, where volunteers offer hands-on training and support, on the phone and in person once possible.

There is a major opportunity from a surging public appetite to volunteer, as long as this can be effectively harnessed. Over three quarters of a million people signed up to volunteer for the NHS within days, while over 300,000 people have volunteered locally. Stronger infrastructure is needed, to ensure that those who try to make a contribution are not frustrated by being given nothing useful to do. Sustaining this NHS volunteer army with local opportunities, including as digital champions, will be a crucial way to create a sustained legacy from the volunteering surge.

Yet there is also a parallel challenge from the distribution of civic efforts. Before the crisis, around a third of people were involved in formal volunteering. That was twice as common in the most affluent as the least well-off areas. Analysis of the Covid-19 mutual aid groups for the APPG report suggests that they replicate this pre-existing pattern.

On average, each mutual aid group covers a population of around 25,000 people – but in several large towns and small cities there is just one group for every 100,000 people. If there are fewer groups where there may be more social need – particularly areas of high population turnover, more deprivation and more social isolation – cooperation between local authorities and the mutual aid groups can help them to bridge divides.

As Will Tanner of Onward notes, drawing on the think-tank’s work in Barking, Dagenham and Grimsby, the challenge is to ensure that the crisis does not widen gaps in the social fabric.

So the “levelling up” agenda needs to think about civic and social infrastructure as well as the economic impacts of the pandemic – to ensure that it is not just the more cohesive communities which benefit most from social connection, increasing the gap for areas with least social capital.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Ryan Bourne: A view so radical that some simply won’t see it. The driver of our problems isn’t lockdown. It’s the virus.

Ryan Bourne holds the R Evan Scharf Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute. 

Boris Johnson now demands we must “Stay Alert” to the threat of Covid-19, rather than simply “Stay Home” to avoid spreading it. Perhaps it’s time we commentators “stayed alert” to new evidence regarding the Coronavirus too, rather than doubling down on our entrenched views.

Even after the Prime Minister’s statement, the UK remains gripped in an inane pro- v anti-lockdown debate – the former camp convinced relaxation risks a huge additional death toll, the latter convinced lockdowns themselves cause economic destruction.

This dialogue of the deaf is fast becoming a dialogue of the blind. For global evidence suggests that lockdowns have had a very small additional impact on economic activity relative to the voluntary social distancing we’d see anyway. Not only were our behaviours changing radically before government orders, but places that didn’t lockdown are seeing similar economic devastation.

Take the United States. Data from Raj Chetty’s “Opportunity Insights” produces incontrovertible evidence that “social spending,” time spent away from home, and travel plunged following the national emergency declaration on March 13.

This was well before state governors ordered business closures and mandated that residents stay home. The five U.S. states that did not issue stay-at-home orders likewise saw near-identical economic and mobility trends to those that did. These results have been confirmed by two academic studies. Major retail brands, from Nike to Apple, were closing stores well before state lockdowns too.

Sweden, which didn’t lockdown to the same extent, similarly suggests voluntary distancing has been the key driver of downturns. Data from Citymapper shows that transport mobility in Stockholm fell 70 percent by the start of March. Travel to the holiday island of Gotland was down 96 percent compared with Easter last year, despite no government orders banning it.

Last week, projections from the Swedish central bank suggested the country will see a GDP contraction similar to other locked down Scandinavian economies, despite Sweden’s liberal approach to business openings. Just because people are free to engage in economic activities or open their businesses, does not mean workers or businesses will do so.

Here, OpenTable data shows that UK restaurant bookings fell 82 percent by March 17th against last year, a full three days before Boris Johnson closed restaurants. City Mapper shows mobility in London had fallen 75 per cent the day before full lockdown was announced, with Manchester and Birmingham exhibiting similar patterns.

True, it then fell by another 10 percentage points after lockdown, but the degree of behavioral change would have made it very difficult for much activity to remain open anyway.

Despite extensive media focus worldwide on bars still open, people having picnics or bathing on beaches, the data shows voluntary social distancing came well before government mandates. We acted on information from governments, of course, but not their orders. Some companies even wanted governments to lockdown to be eligible for business interruption insurance or relief. The economic carnage is therefore primarily from the virus, not the lockdown. And other data on the famous R, from countries such as Switzerland to the U.S. states, suggests the virus transmission was subsequently falling firmly before lockdowns were introduced.

My point here is not to imply that lockdowns are economically harmless. Crude bans catch high-risk and low-risk activity alike. They prevent businesses from adapting to this new environment with safety protocols too, and second-guess what is best for many families in very different situations. We can all think of examples of companies that could open safely and viably with social distancing (the government ultimately agreed on garden centres).

Likewise, we know wellbeing has fallen dramatically for many and that lockdowns contribute to that by banning some activities that could bring us great pleasure. Sweden is also strongly dependent on foreign trade, so in part is being dragged down by policy elsewhere.

But these impacts on the margin shouldn’t be used to mask the big picture: whether in expectation of lockdowns, plain old fear, or observation of policies elsewhere, private activity mimicked lockdowns before they happened.

The libertarian in me wants to blame bad government policies for economic harm. And the longer lockdowns go on, and adaptation is denied, the more true this becomes. Yet one cannot look honestly at the data and conclude anything other than the virus, not the lockdowns, have caused our economic woes so far.

So what are the implications? Pro-lockdown commentators could say this proves there is no health vs. economic trade-off and so little upside to relaxing restrictions. Anti-lockdown folk could say that it shows people are better placed to manage risks than governments imply.

Our starting assumption though should surely be that much economic pain will endure until the public feels confident infection risks have been reduced. Lockdowns prevent business innovation towards this. But they might help deter some people taking the wrong message that relaxation means “anything goes.” Johnson is evidently pained by these considerations, hence phasing in other loosening, while being terrified about how it’s perceived.

His strategy now is to continually adjust activity restrictions to suppress the virus while using staged the relaxation to judge what the big risk factors are. With so much uncertainty, none of us know yet whether this is the right approach. Retrospective analyses will say suppression was the correct call if a vaccine comes quickly and so lockdowns actually prevent deaths rather than delaying them, or if the time results in better treatments, or safety protocols that inspire more confidence. The unknowns are legion.

Boris has to make a judgment now and is clearly hedging his bets. He wants to do more than “flattening the curve,” and to build test-and-trace infrastructure to live with the virus once infections have fallen dramatically, shifting to more like South Korea’s approach. Where he is silent is what evidence it would take for that that strategy to be abandoned. At what stage do we, societally, conclude the costs of suppression or waiting for a vaccine to “go back to normal” are too high.

To put it another way: there remain only three ways this full episode ends for the UK – a vaccine delivering sustained immunity, near-eradication and then ongoing firefighting indefinitely, or various paths towards “herd immunity.”

Johnson was perfectly clear on the staged removal of lockdown. He was less clear on what might cause him to change his view on which end state he was working towards – indeed, if a vaccine wasn’t forthcoming, he simply said we would all be in it for the “long haul.”

The virus has been the cause of our economic pain to date. But whether suppressing it is optimal largely depends on factors beyond political control. What would have to happen for this new alert system for ongoing suppression to be deemed undesirable? That’s the hole in this pandemic plan.

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Liam Fox: The amendments that could kill free trade deals with America, developing countries and the Commonewealth this week

Liam Fox is a former Secretary of State for International Trade, and is MP for North Somerset.

On Wednesday this week, the House of Commons will consider the remaining stages of the Agriculture bill. It is in many ways an uncontroversial piece of legislation but, as with many such bills, there are traps waiting for the unwary.

In this case, the trap relates to potential amendments on the issue of animal welfare. Most people are proud of this country’s animal welfare measures, which make us one of the most humane in the world and would like to see the rest of the world move in our direction.

On the face of it, the amendments tabled appear innocuous, and seem genuinely intended to help the U.K.’s farming sector. But their unintended consequences are profound, and could cause huge damage to the United Kingdom’s international reputation for observing treaty law; hole Britain’s new independent trade policy below the waterline and, unwind much of the work done by DFID and by NGOs to help eliminate poverty in the world’s developing economies.

The amendments seek to prevent imports under any trade agreement if UK standards on animal welfare are not applied in the country of origin.

The first issue that arises is whether the amendments are compatible with WTO rules, and whether incorporating them into domestic law would undermine Britain’s reputation for support of a rules-based international trading system.

At the moment, food safety and the ability of individual governments to regulate on the issue, is anchored in WTO law under the SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) Agreement. Animal welfare is not covered by WTO law, with the exception of standards relating to slaughter, which are referenced in the SPS agreement.

There are general exceptions to WTO law under Article XX of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), but animal welfare is not one of those exceptions.  During the Uruguay Round of world trade talks, there was much debate around the issue, and it was finally decided that animal welfare should not be included as an issue, as set out in the so called “Dunkel Text”, named after the then Director General of the GATT.

In other words, trying to force another country to adopt UK animal welfare standards as a condition of a preferential trade agreement would not be legal. It is the sort of “level playing field” issue beloved by the EU, and is exactly the kind of provision we are fighting against in our current negotiation over our future trading relationship

We do not believe that we should have to incorporate EU rules into Britain order to trade with them – and other countries would have exactly the same attitude towards the UK if we were to try to impose our animal welfare rules on them as a condition of market entry. It would be a fine start indeed to Britain’s post-EU independent trade policy if we were to follow the political direction of the organisation from which we have just broken free rather than adopting a much more liberal, pro-free trade posture.

There would be almost immediate implications for the trade negotiations that are currently underway – with United States, Australia, New Zealand and potential membership of CPTPP (the Transpacific Partnership). Take it from me that the US would walk away from talks if we tried to make the adoption of UK rules a precondition of any FTA, and they would be rapidly followed by the others.

There are undoubtedly some in Whitehall who would not  be too concerned about such an outcome, but the real winners in such a scenario would be the Brussels bureaucrats, who would be smiling from ear to ear if the UK-US trade negotiations were to break down in acrimony because the UK had insisted on a “level playing field”.

One of the other serious, though I am sure unintended, consequences of passing these amendments would be that it would be impossible for Britain to conclude free trade agreements with developing countries, including those in the Commonwealth.

We have spent a great deal of time and effort in persuading these countries, at the WTO in Geneva, that we will be on their side post-Brexit, and that we will use our newfound freedom to help open up free and fair global trade. We have declared that we will not follow the protectionist behaviour of the EU which gives aid with one hand but erects barriers to trade with the other.

So were these amendments to take effect, not only would we be accused of betrayal by those who have such high hopes for an independent UK trade policy, but we would be likely to bring ourselves politically into conflict with the development NGOs.

The best way to help our agricultural sector is to use our reputation for high standards, including in animal welfare, as a marketing tool for UK farming exports. That requires a properly strategic approach to the sector operated across government departments including Department for International Trade, DEFRA and the Foreign Office. British farming, for too long anaesthetised by the EU’s common agricultural policy, will need sustained help to reach its full potential as a major exporting sector for the UK economy.

These amendments must be defeated and defeated resoundingly if we are to stop them being reintroduced when the bill reaches the House of Lords. The law is not for virtue signalling – and bad law, however well intended, will bring bad consequences that go far beyond the issue of animal welfare itself.

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Ben Roback: Trump and Biden’s prospects in key battleground states – and their approaches to lockdown

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

The American response to Coronavirus continues to intrigue. The pattern has been that Republican state governors, who are allies of Donald Trump, are keen to display their “Make America Great Again” credentials ahead of an election, and a likely reshuffle of the president’s top team, should he win in November.

More broadly, governors and states have led the imposing and subsequent relaxing of restrictions. Some, such as Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic Governor of New York, have thrived under the spotlight. His approval rating has hit a record high of 77 per cent. More than half of US states are set to be partially reopened by the end of this week.

But trust in state governments is broadly trending down, according to research by Ipsos, driven most fervently by residents of states leading the charge to re-open. Over the last two weeks, 50 per cent of residents of Texas, Georgia, and Florida report trusting the state government. This is down from 67 per cent in late March.

Unsurprisingly, trust in Trump’s federal government falls clearly along party lines. Republicans are more likely to trust it (66 per cent), and are less likely to think that returning to their pre-coronavirus lives is a major risk (58 per cent).

Democrats widely distrust the federal government (28 per cent), trust Governors (71 per cent), and believe returning to normal right now is a big risk (84 per cent). Could these figures translate directly into the November election?

The 2020 knock-on effect

The Coronavirus response will inevitably become one of the dividing issues between Trump and Joe Biden in November, not least because 30 million more Americans now rely on government support for their daily existence than before the global pandemic gripped the country.

Not every state is competitive, of course. Some will vote for Trump or Biden regardless of what they do between now and November. As the President famously said in the midst of the 2016 election campaign: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters”. With a 93 per cent approval rating amongst Republicans – a figure that has steadily increased since January with Gallup – he is probably right.

Four states provide an intriguing look at how the 2020 election could be shaped by current events (latest polling by Real Clear Politics).


Latest polling: Trump (41 per cent), Biden 47 per cent (+5.5)

Michigan has in many ways become the centre of the pro-Trump, anti-lockdown resistance. Yesterday, armed protestors entered the state Capitol building demonstrating against the ongoing stay-at-home order issued by Gretchen Whitmer, the state’s Democratic Governor.

Michigan’s House of Representatives has since decided against extending the emergency declaration. Whilst her response to coronavirus has courted controversy, Whitmer’s approval rating easily exceeds that of the President. Just 36 per cent of Michigan respondents polled said they approve of the president’s handling of the crisis, compared to 63% approval for Whitmer.

In 2016, Trump won the state by less than 11,000 votes out of more than 4.5 million votes cast. Both Trump and Biden will focus on their blue-collar credential in a state that remains the beating heart of America’s auto industry.


Latest polling: Trump 44.2 per cent, Biden 48.6 per cent (+4.4)

Proof that Arizona will be on a knife-edge in November is that the President visited Phoenix yesterday. Stepping off Air Force One, Trump was en route to a mask-making factory.

Except for Bill Clinton’s win in 1996, Arizona has voted Republican since 1952. In 2016, Trump beat Clinton there by 3.6 points, but the home state of the late John McCain has continued to undergo major demographic changes, with a growing and energised Latino population.

The most pressing threat to the President’s prospects is the risk of defections amongst female voters in the suburbs of Phoenix. Presently, Doug Ducey, the state’s Republican Governor, has imposed an ongoing state-wide stay-at-home order, and people can only leave their homes for essential trips.

It is due to expire on 15 May, by which time barbers, restaurants and coffee shops will be open for business. Ducey is struggling with a 52 per cent approval rating, well below the 72 per cent average for governors nationwide. The challenge for Biden is clear, but with a narrow polling lead the state is undoubtedly in play come November.


Latest polling: Trump 43.3 per cent, Biden 46.5 per cent (+3.2)

In many ways the ultimate battleground state, Florida has voted with the winner since 1964 in every presidential race other than in 1992.

Trump took Florida by just 1.2 per cent in 2016, and retaining the state will be a critical step on the President’s path to re-election. The strong Latino presence in such cities as Miami are counterbalanced by Florida being home to America’s conservative wealthy retirees.

Ron DeSantis, the state’s Republican Governor, has resisted a state-wide curfew, but residents have to stay indoors unless they are undertaking essential activities. At the southern tip of the country, it is not surprising that fishing is deemed to be one of these.

Biden leads in the state that has become the President’s official personal base, where it is home to his ‘Winter White House’ resort. It is by no means insurmountable, and so expect the president to spend much more time there when an easing of restrictions allows for a resumption of campaign rallies.


Latest polling: Trump 41.8 per cent, Biden 48.3 per cent (+6.5)

Donald Trump won the state by 48 per cent to 48 per cent in 2016, and the state looks to hang delicately in the balance this time around.

Pennsylvania has leant Democrat in presidential elections but, in 2016, an appeal to the working class communities in the state’s Rust Belt represented a breaking of the ‘blue wall’, in much the same way that CCHQ demolished Labour’s ‘red wall’ in 2019.

Presidential candidates traditionally carry their home states, and Joe Biden’s advantage for 2020 is that he was born in blue-collar Scranton. The Democratic Governor, Tom Wolf, relaxed coronavirus restrictions at the start of the month, and now outdoor activities are permitted. Biden will need to work hard to maintain his lead in the state, but winning it come November would represent a major step closer to the White House.

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Howard Flight: There’s reason to believe that the recovery will proceed better and and accelerate faster than many anticipate

Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

It looks as though we have just about passed the worst in terms of new cases and daily deaths, which will lead, inevitably, to assessing and assisting the country’s economic outlook. My expectation is that we will start to ease the lockdown gently in early May.

The ability to get back to the favourable economic conditions of six months ago is not yet possible, because a significant number of people will have lost their jobs/income and simply cannot afford to turn on the spending tap.

Notwithstanding, the Government should urge people to increase their consumption to help get the economy going.
Time will tell, but it looks as if we are fortunate in having a particularly able and bold Chancellor of the Exchequer who has devised and put in place key new financial institutions to help sustain economic recovery.

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) is there as the corporate lender of last resort. So far, the banks have frustrated the use of CBILS funds, particularly by smaller companies, by requiring personal guarantees and wholly profitable track records, and also by being unwilling to lend where companies have obtained Enterprise Investment Scheme funding. I expect the Government to have some success in getting the banks to be more cooperative here, but that CBILS will mostly be used by more established businesses.

The CoronaVirus Job Retention Scheme has been dramatically more successful in making available furlough finance equal to 80 per cent of earnings up to £2500 per month. More directly, the Chancellor has provided a £9 billion rescue package for the self-employed, again equal to 80 per cent of earnings up to £2500 per month.

The Chancellor’s latest initiative is the establishment of a Future Fund, together with an expansion of the role of Innovate UK, to provide a total £1 billion stimulus package for SMEs/Start Ups. This is a key territory, where the UK has been markedly successful recently. £10.1 billion was invested last year into UK tech unicorns alone – with the UK being the third largest tech investor after China and America.

It is intended that the Future Fund will operate on an investment matching basis, whereby the Government will commit initially up to £250 million in total funding for investments of between £125,000 and £5 million, alongside Venture Investors/Funds which agree to match the Government’s funding with their own private capital.

It is not entirely clear who will be ultimately responsible for the investment decisions. The Government’s portion of the funding will be provided in exchange for the issue in convertible loan notes. It looks as if and it needs to be the case that the investment decisions will be made by the managers of the Future Fund ,and not by government. There are several practical points yet to be resolved whereby the Government intends the window for applications to run until the end of September.

The very positive Keynesian stance of the Chancellor gives me greater optimism that, once recovery starts in the summer, it may proceed and accelerate better than many currently anticipate. In releasing functions and activities from lockdown, clearly the initial wave will focus on areas where there is no density of individuals involved in the relevant activities.

The Government might also learn its lesson from and copy Germany in this area. Furthermore, if it looks as if inoculation could be developing speedily available on a major scale by the end of the year. This will surely be positive for economic confidence. But, like Asia, we would be wise to be organised to contain aggressively any new virus outbreaks which might occur.

The initial freeing-up is likely to apply to no more than 25 per cent of lockdown activities, and this will need the prerequisite of being able to have nationwide testing and tracking of new cases which may arise. At best, it is likely to take 12 months to get back to conditions to be seen as reasonably normally, which in many areas and particularly retail will operate very differently compared to two years ago. Here, the Government needs to use capitalism to hasten the adaption to changes.

The first phase of lockdown easing is likely to concentrate on areas not subject to mass participation, e.g. small shops; hairdressers; garden centres; walking in parks; private car usage and family visits. There will be pressure to open schools sooner rather than later, where relatively few cases will give justification here. The sort of areas likely to be the last to be freed up are large department stores, cinema’s, concerts and church services including weddings.

The pundits have put the UK’s lost output at 15 per cent to 30 per cent of GDP: personally, I anticipate it to be less and closer to 10 per cent to 15 per cent.

The first economic objective will be to restore consumption, wherever possible and to make sure there is the necessary funding to finance large and small transactions. Ongoing economic policy will need us to live with the debt that has been created, and to rely on future economic growth to effect the relative reduction needed in the country’s real level of debt.

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Neil O’Brien: Why Conservative MPs have set up the China Research Group

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

China’s secretive, authoritarian government has created huge problems for the rest of the world.

Start with the doctor in Wuhan who warned colleagues about the new disease, and was charged with “making false comments” that “disturbed the social order”. Or journalists who reported significant numbers dying in Wuhan who were arrested (two still missing).

The cover-up continues: morause were arrested just last week. China is refusing repeated requests by the World Health Organisation to take part in investigations into the origins of COVID-19, and refuses to take part in any international inquiry.

People who watched Chernobyl on TV will see the parallels: a system focussed on supressing anything that might embarrass the Communist Party means problems are covered up until it’s much too late.

It’s a long term problem: Beijing clamped down on the wild animal trade after SARS in 2002 but, without transparency, it’s been allowed to come back.

Beijing bullies democratic governments for daring to ask reasonable questions. The Australian government (and opposition) called for an inquiry into the origins of the virus. The Chinese government ambassador threatened that China would no longer import goods from Oz. Chinese state media described Australia as “gum on China’s shoe” which needed “scraping off.”

Aussies aren’t alone. China’s ambassador to Sweden warned Swedes they were a lightweight facing a heavyweight, and that “for our enemies, we have a shotgun”. Hardly diplomatic.

The Coronavirus crisis has brought forward a debate we needed anyway.

That’s why I and other Conservative MPs have set up the China Research Group.

We urgently need fresh thinking about how to protect ourselves from the Chinese government’s aggressive economic policies. How to counter the Chinese Communist Party’s effort to reshape the world in a way that suits autocracy.

In this column, I’ll focus on the economy, and come back to the rest.

China’s either the biggest or second biggest economy in the world. The world’s biggest exporter for over a decade now. The biggest online marketplace, and emerging leader in most high-tech fields.

It’s economic blastoff leaves commentators constantly behind the curve. In 2004, the US accounted for 24 per cent of world manufacturing, the UK four per cent and China nine per cent. By 2018, the US had 18 per cent, the UK two per cent and China 28 per cent.

The problem isn’t that China is developing. It’s good China is no longer impoverished in the way it was after the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution; great that Chinese people can make huge contributions to the world.

The problem is that the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t really believe in free or fair markets and has an economic strategy based on domination, not fair competition.

Here’s how Chinese President Xi Jinping sees things working out in the longer term:

“For a fairly long time yet, socialism in its primary stage will exist alongside a more productive and developed capitalist system. In this long period of cooperation and conflict, socialism must learn from the boons that capitalism has brought to civilization…. Here we must have a great strategic determination, resolutely rejecting all false arguments that we should abandon socialism… Most importantly, we must concentrate our efforts on bettering our own affairs, continually broadening our comprehensive national power, improving the lives of our people, building a socialism that is superior to capitalism, and laying the foundation for a future where we will win the initiative and have the dominant position.”

We’ve been warned: the Communist Party will use markets to develop, but the longer term goal remains to win a dominant position, not convert to our system.

That’s the Chinese government’s economic policy too: to destroy the competition and gain monopoly power. The EU, Japan and US have jointly listed concerns.

As the US and EU have set out, the Chinese state uses a vast array of unfair tools to rig the market.

The EU notes that the “protectionist trend is rising” in China.

That trend includes vast industrial subsidies, soft loans from state banks, discriminatory standard setting and procurement to build up national champions, the promotion of huge state-owned enterprises, and industrial espionage in even the most sensitive fields.

China’s giant market allows it to lure firms into forced technology transfers – you can’t sell into China unless you agree to a joint venture: through which your technology is later extracted.

Some in business, like Jürgen Hambrecht, BASF’s Chairman, complain publicly about China’s “forced disclosure of know-how.” But more stay schtum, because they don’t want to be locked out of the world’s fastest-growing market, or are in too deep, or think the cheese on the mousetrap looks good.

Beijing buys up strategically useful tech firms across the west, but prohibits such investments at home. It is currently clamping down on foreign telecoms providers as part of a drive for cyber security.

“Industrial penetration has become a weapon,” says George Robertson, the former NATO Secretary-General. For that reason, it was great to see Oliver Dowden step in regarding changes at British chipmaker Imagination Technologies this month.

As Joe Kaeser, CEO of Siemens, put it: “The Chinese go into a company, give guarantees about employment and then everything is calm for a while… At some point, they set up a separate company that swallows the old one, and take away the research and development.”

Increasing trade between true market economies increases competition and specialisation. While there are winners and losers, the net effect is to spur growth.

In contrast, the Chinese government’s ruthless mercantilist policies slow growth for all western countries.

In lower tech fields, the Communist Party subsidises overcapacity, floods the market, and so pushes western rivals out of business to gain dominance.

Whether it’s steel or solar panels, the Chinese state can create a glut, crash prices, and then absorb losses for long enough to be the last player standing.

In higher tech fields, the Chinese government’s mercantilist policies create “innovation drag.”

There’s far less incentive for western firms to invest in risky R&D if state-run Chinese firms will just rip off and use anything they discover to compete against them. Even when they do invest and succeed, the profits are lower, leaving less to invest in the next round of competition.

One study of the US finds that “accelerating import competition from China during the 2000s can explain about 40% of the slowdown in patenting in 1999–2007 relative to 1991–1999.”

Belatedly, the west is waking up.

The US is moving to ban the export of more types of technology.  In the EU there is a debate how to deter Chinese state stripping of technology. Japan has announced reshoring subsidies to bring production back from China. The UK is starting to defend against Chinese commercial espionage.

But a bigger shift is needed. China’s has a highly successful progamme to dominate all the industries of the future: “Made in China 2025”. China has something like 70% of the global drone market, dominates in 5G, is ploughing vast state resources into dominating AI and so on.

In contrast, for decades, Britain has taken too little concern over its industrial commons.  We are finally trying to address our pitiful levels of investment in R&D, and the PM’s chief advisor has a welcome focus on research.

But there is much more to do.

The illusions of the 1990s have gone up in smoke: that China would inevitably democratise as it developed… on an inevitable path of opening up… that cheap goods from China would benefit the west, but we’d be able to hold on to higher tech jobs… Wrong, wrong, wrong.

We need a new plan, and fast.

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