Great America

The ‘Parasite’ Pandemic

People with a platform need to maintain calm while aligning their audiences’ priorities with their own. Calm trickles down, but so does panic. Calm is essential to enduring any crisis. This one is not exempt.

“An exam is like slashing through a jungle. Lose that momentum, and you’re finished.”

—“Parasite” (2019)

If grocery store shopping in 2020 feels like the “Hunger Games,” watching how many of America’s elected officials, members of the press and celebrities have responded to COVID-19 during quarantine feels like watching “Parasite.”

In “Parasite,” the Kims, a low-income family of four, deceive the Parks to gain employment as an English tutor, art therapist, driver, and housekeeper. What begins as a sympathetic attempt at making a decent living in South Korea (Ki-woo speaks English fluently but does not have a university degree) turns into a malicious, dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest scheme, making this truth abundantly clear: We live in a Darwinian world where we need to use our minds to survive.

In this world, low-income or “gig economy” workers try to survive in the jungle; higher-income earners removed from the jungle, like the Parks, play. The Parks’ living room, a former playpen, overlooks their lush, green backyard that, by no coincidence, resembles a jungle.

At face value, director Bong Joon-ho portrays the Parks unfavorably: the film implies Mr. Park has a cushy tech job because of his college degree, not his intellect. But the nuances show the Kims behave much like the Parks as their income grows. Wealth can make people less cautious and aware of the skills that enable them to survive. It can breed complacency and encourage risky behavior.

If Bong made a movie called “Virus,” the Kims would hoard bottles of Purell and sell them for 50 times the retail price; the Parks would be Senators Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) profiting from insider trading.

A third group would consist of people like the driver the Kims manipulate the Parks into firing. This group—the fired driver or any entrepreneur who earns his income the honest way—watches the media frenzy from their televisions, isolated or in quarantine, playing by the rules.

Many of those who have used their platforms to preach about staying out of touch act out-of-touch. They’re playing, but not by the rules, and everyone is watching: media consumption increases by about 60 percent when the government forces consumers to stay home, according to the Nielsen Corporation.

This pandemic makes clear why recent polls say the percentage of Americans who want to raise taxes on the rich equals the number who want to cut taxes for everyone. But in reality, entrepreneurs who have accumulated wealth by making things have added the most value in this pandemic.

While members of Congress were fighting over a relief bill, Elon Musk was building ventilators—and donating hundreds of the machines to New York’s under-supplied hospitals.

Politicians, members of the press, and celebrities need to take mindful, common-sense steps to show they match Americans’ top priority: survival. These steps show how they can increase their value while aligning themselves with the public’s interest.

By the end of March, upwards of 4 million Americans will have filed for unemployment claims, the highest on record. Members of Congress should exhibit leadership and comradery by forgoing their salaries that range from $174,000 to $223,000 per year to send to Americans.

Americans ranked the news media last in terms of how they have handled the coronavirus pandemic response in the United States, according to Gallup poll results released March 25. It’s not hard to see why: asking the same question about word choice (“Why are you calling it a ‘Chinese’ virus?”) multiple times does not inform a Pep Boys owner about when his son’s military base will open, the likelihood of his ICU nurse daughter contracting the disease, or whether or not he can keep his business afloat.

Journalists add value in that they create knowledge. Regardless of one’s own personal view of President Trump and his verbiage, these questions divert attention away from finding solutions and cheapen the serious economic and health effects the country faces. Reporters should be “above it” and ask questions about medical progress and economic plans.

Many television journalists need to replace fearmongering with pragmatism. I advised a private healthcare organization about how effectively to communicate with the public during the 2014 Ebola crisis. Words like “prevention” and “pragmatic” don’t catch people’s attention. If they did, leading causes of death like cancer, suicide, and auto accidents would take more precedence. But including a live death tracker that resembles a New Year’s Eve countdown (or a North Korean ticking time bomb) clock implies CNN cares more about its headlines than it does about its viewers.

Replacing the death tracker with a timer, starting with the date and time Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced the COVID-19 response bill, would have aligned them with the public by instilling a sense of urgency: Congress needed to act. Acknowledging the public’s fear—and their right to be fearful—builds trust. Stoking fears does not.

Celebrities need to stop announcing their test results (positive or negative). Americans sympathized with Tom Hanks when he announced he and his wife both tested positive for COVID-19. It also made the reality of the virus’ presence more real. Now, as thousands of Americans wait for their results (if they’re lucky enough even to get tested), the country reading about Heidi Klum’s negative result corroborates “Parasite’s” message: the wealthy have it easy.

Public figures need to show leadership. Mark Cuban ensured Dallas Mavericks arena workers would receive compensation, questioned why 3M increased ventilator mask prices, and demanded that Republicans and Democrats pass the response bill. Brad Paisley started a service in which volunteers deliver free groceries to the elderly from “The Store,” a supermarket he founded with his wife in 2018 that provides free food for people who have fallen on hard times.

Gal Gadot, an Israeli model, released a video montage of celebrities singing “Imagine,” an anthem John Lennon himself called “virtually the Communist Manifesto,” during a time in which the world is suffering from a virus that originated in a Communist-run country. “Come Together” would have been a better choice.

The CDC uses patriotic terms like “war” and “protecting America.” It’s time politicians, the press and celebrities align themselves with the third group: the ones who elected them . . . read their articles . . . and stream their content.

The climax of “Parasite” results in the former housekeeper’s husband, quarantined in the Parks’ bunker, starting an all-out riot in their backyard. People with a platform need to maintain calm while aligning their audiences’ priorities with their own. Calm trickles down, but so does panic. Calm is essential to enduring any crisis. This one is not exempt.

Great America

Is the Wuhan Virus Being Used as a Pretext to Stop Gun Sales?

The Constitution guarantees all Americans the right to self-protection. Now is the worst possible time to curtail that right.

Are governments using the COVID-19 epidemic as an excuse to slow or stop gun sales? A little-noticed announcement from the FBI this week may soon enable bureaucratic inertia to delay legal gun sales indefinitely.

As uncertainty surrounding the social impacts of the Wuhan virus mounts, Americans increasingly have looked to exercise their rights under the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms for protection. But we’re seeing signs that governments view limiting gun sales as a legitimate part of the public health response to the epidemic.

In San Jose, California, officials shut down gun stores as “nonessential” businesses. In Fresno, California, the city council is considering bans on the sale of liquor and firearms. Similarly, in Illinois, municipal leaders are seeking emergency powers to ban gun sales. In Philadelphia, police have used the pandemic as a pretext to stop issuing license-to-carry permits. On March 11, the mayor of New Orleans issued a proclamation which authorizes the suspension of firearms sales.

For some reason, the Centers for Disease Control has also entered the gun control debate by devoting some of its “disease-fighting” resources to monitoring firearms deaths. It has lavished resources on this phenomenon, in effect equating gun violence and violent crime with infectious disease.

The CDC is so invested in the study of gun violence that the term, “firearm” returns 1,784 results in a search of its website. By comparison, the “coronavirus” returns 7,893 results. We can all wish those resources instead had been devoted to controlling and preventing viral pandemics.

But more troubling is that the federal government appears poised to use state government shutdowns as a pretext for indefinitely slowing some gun sales.

Under the current system, an American must pass a background check before taking possession of a firearm. As noted on the FBI’s public information site, “Mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Act) of 1993, Public Law 103-159, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was established for Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) . . . for information to be supplied immediately on whether the transfer of a firearm would be in violation of . . . law.”

Concerned that federal agencies might passively ban gun purchases by providing slow background check responses, Congress enacted a failsafe provision: If the government fails to resolve the background check within three business days, the gun dealer may choose to transfer the firearm anyway.

The three-day failsafe provides officials running the NICS a strong incentive to perform a timely background check because the public will know exactly who to blame for a failure of the process. But what is a “business day?” Under normal circumstances, that excludes holidays and weekends. In the midst of this current crisis, that term has been reinterpreted.

The FBI recently published this notice:

ATTENTION

As the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Section works through the impact of the COVID-19 operationally, we are working to maintain our services. We are aware that states may be considering options to protect the health and safety of their employees, which may include a reduction in office availability or even closure to some offices.

Should a state choose to limit days of operation by completely closing state offices one or more days a week or even indefinitely, this could potentially impact the Brady Transfer Date (BTD) by changing the time in which an FFL can legally transfer a firearm in a delayed status. The NICS Section urges FFLs to be cognizant of the impact this may have to your day-to-day operations, and also to stress the importance of adhering to the BTD that is provided to you at the time a transaction is put into a Delay status. The Brady Act does not federally prohibit an FFL from transferring a firearm after the third business day expires, even if the NICS Section has been unable to provide a proceed response, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(1).

In other words, the FBI’s interpretation is that when a state closes its offices during the crisis, these will not be counted as business days. In many states, that represents a potential delay of weeks or perhaps months as the pandemic rages.

Civil order previously has broken down in America to the point that owning a firearm was essential to personal safety. Remember Los Angeles during the 1992 Rodney King riots and post-Katrina New Orleans in 2005, to name two recent examples. Americans have reason to worry and good reasons to want to be armed.

In Philadelphia, police have announced a policy of ending “nonviolent” criminal arrests. A thief can steal your car as a policeman watches and nothing will happen. There simply aren’t enough police to protect us all if a sense of law and order collapses. The Constitution guarantees all Americans the right to self-protection. Now is the worst possible time to curtail that right.

Great America

What Doctor Fauci Got Wrong

As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Fauci hindered the development of an effective treatment for HIV/AIDS. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait decades to restart our economy while we wait around for him to find a cure for COVID-19.

The trouble with relying too heavily on expert opinion is that it is often flawed and alarmist. Worse, bureaucrats don’t pay any of the costs of getting it wrong—something we are learning all too well as much of the country remains under house arrest and our economy in tatters.

Instead, these taxpayer-funded “experts” simply move on to the next public health crisis that invariably comes along—with more taxpayer money and bigger budgets, of course. It’s heads they win; tails they win. And the establishment media, never too keen on math or statistics, dutifully parrots whatever the experts say.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has become a prominent public face in the course of the coronavirus crisis. As the long-time director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Fauci has a key role on President Trump’s coronavirus task force. And, for good and for ill, he knows it.

It’s true that Fauci received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from one President Bush and was praised by another on a presidential debate stage. So what? Are the Bush family the arbiter of all that is good now?

There’s a lot of talk about how we need an Apollo program for virology but we neglect that the average age of a staffer in the control room for Apollo 11 was just 28 years old. You don’t get new blood in the gerontocracy. How likely is it that a 79-year-old has new insights into running a federal bureaucracy during a pandemic?

Indeed, we always fight the last war. For Fauci, that war is HIV/AIDS. It was not for nothing that Larry Kramer of ACT UP called Fauci “an incompetent idiot.”

Kramer may have been too kind. Let’s look at Fauci’s public utterances in his very long career at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci allowed himself to be bullied by HIV/AIDS activists, once claiming at a conference that researchers “do not have a lock on correctness.” (Contrast that with now, when he believes that we should follow everything public health authorities say.)

Fauci complimented the activists and worked hard to be on their side, according to the book, Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge.

Then, as now, Fauci mastered manipulating the press. He quickly dismissed other scientists with ad hominem attacks, claiming that the risk to the general population of HIV/AIDS was orders of magnitude larger than it actually was. In fact, HIV/AIDS transmissions in the United States outside of the intravenous drug user and homosexual community remain extremely rare.

For those gay men suffering from HIV/AIDS, Fauci put up lots of red tape for them until he finally relented in 1989.

“In the beginning, those [HIV/AIDS activists] had a blanket disgust with us,” Fauci later admitted to the Washington Post. “And it was mutual. Scientists said all trials should be restricted, rigid and slow. The gay groups said we were killing people with red tape. [Emphasis added]. When the smoke cleared we realized that much of their criticism was absolutely valid.”

How then should we think about all the red tape and restrictions Fauci is pushing today?

Or his lack of success?

Indeed, Fauci failed to cure HIV/AIDS despite tens of billions of dollars going to his work over the years—something else to keep in mind as he dismisses the latest European research on the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, an ultracheap drug first developed by Bayer in the 1930s.

Instead, two gay men were cured of HIV—not in America and not by the NIH—but by scientists in London and Berlin respectively. And cheaply too.

Let’s hope we don’t have to wait decades to restart our economy while we wait around for him to find a cure.

Great America

Social Distancing On Track To Prevent 2 Million Coronavirus Deaths, Research Suggests

A new study warns against the dangers of ending social distancing too early, including a prolonged need for radical measures.

The radical social distancing and stay-home measures in place around the United States to prevent the spread of coronavirus may save 2 million lives, according to new scientific research.

Bill Gates-funded researchers at the University of Washington, who are advising the nation’s governors and hospitals, forecast that COVID-19 deaths will peak at 81,000 if social distancing measures continue to be used.

The 81,000 does not include an estimate of second-wave deaths next fall and winter, but the University of Washington researcher says there won’t be a second wave of deaths in the fall and winter if community transmission can be stopped through current social distancing.

Is all of this good news?

“If you’re coming from that Imperial College study that found over two million would die, it’s good news,” said Christopher J.L. Murray, who heads the 500-person Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

But, Murray added, “the assumption is we will keep in place social distancing measures, including school closures, non-essential business closures, and stay-at-home orders until the end of May.”

The forecast of deaths peaking in mid-April is similar to one by a modeler for the Centers for Disease Control, Ira Longini, professor at the Center for Statistics and Quantitative Infectious Diseases at the University of Florida.

Murray’s Institute received a $279 million 10 year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and is one of the largest health care and disease modeling teams in the world.

The U.S. and state governments took dramatic action on coronavirus two weeks ago in part due to the findings of an Imperial College, London study.

The models used by Imperial researchers suggest that over 2 million people would die from COVID-19 in the United States if the disease were allowed to spread unchecked.

Won’t politicians feel pressure to end radical social distancing measures, such as by Easter, as President Donald Trump has proposed?

“We estimate a peak of deaths right around Easter,” he said, “After that, many governors will be very reluctant to have the risk of a resurgence. And if you stop social distancing too soon there will be a resurgence.”

Murray says he will update his model every day. “We were talking with one of a governor’s groups in a state last night where they had a big bump in deaths,” said Murray, “more than expected. And so we want our forecasts to reflect the new trends.”

“We are spending trillions on the economic consequences of COVID-19,” Murray said. “We should spend billions to protect against another shock like this, which means making sure we have a mass testing scheme so anyone coming into the country, anyone who is sick, and general testing of the public.”

Imperial’s model is different from Murray’s model, he explained. Imperial’s model is “like measuring the impact of a fire on a town if nobody changed their behavior—everybody would be burned in their homes—as opposed to how many would die if everyone runs away when the fire is coming. Some will still die but most people would change their behavior.”

“Our model is meant to be real-time,” Murray said. “We fit a statistical curve to the available data and to the variables that explain the curve, and the key variable is social distancing.”

I asked Murray if one model was better than the other.

“Both are legitimate,” Murray said. “The first model is a great call to action and super useful. But if you’re trying to help the hospital and fire-fighting service, you need our model.”

But hadn’t the Imperial model been too apocalyptic and alarmist? “There’s a value to apocalyptic alarmism because as we saw some places were slow to do anything,” Murray said.

“And there are still some countries that are slow to do much,” he explained. “I’ve been on the phone with political leaders in Europe who still don’t have stay at home orders because they are worried about the economic effects.”

Murray warned against ending social distancing too early. “If we get over the peak of deaths and people say we’re over it, and we end social distancing and get a second peak in May or June, then we’re in a long period of deaths and far more damaging.”

Great America

Narrative Painting by Numbers

In our constitutional republic, it’s imperative for public policymakers to adopt sound measures based upon facts and effectively communicate them to the people to garner their consent. Our irresponsible media make that very difficult to do.

In this pandemic, we have multiple and daily reminders about why the corporate-leftist media ranks the lowest in the public’s esteem and confidence—hubris, ignorance, irresponsibility, duplicity, fearmongering, and an abject lack of self-awareness are but a few.

For the press, this abysmal reality has been quantified statistically by a recent Gallup poll, wherein “only the news media received a negative approval rating” with 44 percent. (Quite rightly, hospitals and health care workers received the highest approval at 88 percent.)

While one suspects this news surprised many in the elitist media, you wouldn’t know it from the latest manifestation of their patent disdain for the vast majority of Americans, 3,283,000 of whom were forced to file for unemployment last week due to the COVID-19 virus and the unprecedented public health measures taken to combat it.

Looking for more information about this sort of tragedy in the annals of American employment—the previously reported record number had been 695,000 in 1982 during “Stagflation”—I clicked on a CNBC report. After reading it, I realized there was a critical omission of important information.

Curious, I checked other outlets, such as the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, ABC News, and MarketWatch. These, too, had the same omission of critical information.

The omitted critical information is the number of U.S. COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Only Yahoo! Finance edged toward providing this information but stopped short at the end of the report: “There are currently more than 487,600 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide and 22,029 confirmed deaths as of Thursday morning, according to Johns Hopkins.”

Though this report and others did provide a link to stories with U.S. numbers of cases and deaths, it omitted that information from its own reporting, as do the other media reports. In fact, by citing the global COVID-19 numbers because they are higher, they actually buttressed my suspicions.

Why didn’t these reports include the numbers of U.S. COVID-19 cases and deaths?

True, there may well be media reports that do include U.S. cases and deaths. But why didn’t these and so many others? After all, the COVID-19 virus (and China’s Communist Party) are the reason more than 3 million Americans lost their jobs last week. And at no point throughout their febrile fearmongering has the elitist media been shy about citing these U.S. figures and their most dire projections and consequences regarding them.

Certainly, these stories have no trouble prognosticating your impending abysmal financial straits, noting how the full extent of the layoffs was likely “understated” and the consensus is that unemployment will skyrocket. As MarketWatch reports, “Some analysts say the unemployment rate could climb to 20% or higher if the worst-case scenario comes to pass and the economy is shut down for months. Those are 1930s Great Depression level numbers.”

The above reports and others in that vein constitute a disturbing pattern and, given Gallup’s findings, the American public knows why we’re seeing it: the media thinks you’re stupid and dangerous.

Yes, the same people who want to stop airing President Trump’s pandemic press conferences because, unfiltered by the media, his popularity is soaring, now want to make sure you can’t make your own assessment about whether the public health measures implemented to combat the Wuhan virus are proportionate to the crisis or an overreaction.

In sum, they don’t want to risk you deciding the cure is worse than the disease.

Evidently, the elitist media—and all those who believe nothing short of a lengthy, indefinite national lockdown of 331 million people is the only solution to controlling and curtailing the pandemic—want to prevent any economic facts on the ground from being considered when assessing the now dual crises affecting our lives and livelihoods. This is the height of feckless hubris.

As I noted earlier last week, what policymakers need is data—on both COVID-19 and the economy—to make informed decisions regarding this and, sadly, future pandemics:

Because of the unknown in this pandemic, policymakers have every incentive to overreact, for they are the ones with the most to gain and least to lose by overreacting. The issue, then, is when the American public—that is losing everything with every passing day—determines there has been an overreaction.

By no later than early April, it would be wise for policymakers to articulate a comprehensive, proportionate, fact-based plan for any public health measures needing to be continued, curbed, or canceled. Their patience as strained as their family budgets, the American people deserve it; and will settle for no less.

The collection of requisite data is of the utmost importance to the functioning of our federal system, whose flexibility allows the most immediately responsive and effective public health measures to be determined and implemented. Local, state, and federal efforts, individually and collectively, allow for diverse populations, especially those most at risk, to be treated with the needed health measures, which the science so far has shown may not need to be the same across the board.

Consequently, if the accumulating data allows, our federal system—and, yes, our freedom—should begin mitigating the devastation both of the pandemic and the pending recession.

In our constitutional republic, be it in good times or in a crisis, it is imperative for public policymakers to adopt sound measures based upon facts and effectively communicate them to the citizenry in order to seek and garner their consent. If our policymakers fail to do this, the public will reject continuing public health measures, such as lock-downs, or, alternatively, they may refuse to return to their daily lives.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon those who want a “one-size-fits-all-331-million-people” indefinite national lock-down—regardless of the ensuing loss of lives, livelihoods, and other human suffering the concomitant depression will cause—publicly to state what data will ever allow for the first steps to a return to normality in people’s personal lives and professions.

While the elitist media—who are still employed and being paid for their pontifications—won’t provide America’s COVID-19 figures in their unemployment reports because they think we are dangerously ignorant rubes, trust in your own ability to make up your mind. I submit the following as of the morning of March 27, 2020*:

3,283,000 unemployed last week

85,498 U.S. cases of COVID-19

1,311 U.S. deaths from COVIDd-19

1.5 percent U.S. mortality rate from COVID-19

Now, as you contemplate these statistics, put yourself in the position of a responsible public policymaker, wrestling with how to protect lives and livelihoods from the ravages of a pandemic and pending depression.

Suddenly, on the same day you read their report about record weekly unemployment numbers, you are alerted to a new headline from the same CNBC: “The Coronavirus May Be Deadlier Than the 1918 Flu: Here’s How It Stacks up to Other Pandemics.”

As a public policymaker you’ve made your first sound decision: Ignore the fear-mongering media.

*Note: In my own hard-hit state of Michigan, the grim number of COVID-19 cases stood at 2,856, deaths at 60, and the mortality rate was 2.1 percent, which was higher than the national average.

Great America

The Congressional Debacle Passing as ‘Relief’

How the coronavirus rescue package went from actually OK to absolutely horrible inside of a week.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday morning is scheduled to vote on the $2.2 trillion bill that represents, to date, Congress’s largest effort to remedy the devastating economic impacts of the coronavirus epidemic. The bill is expected to pass.

The story of how we ended up with the current $2 trillion package reflects not only the public health crisis we are living through but also, more broadly, the sickness afflicting our legislative politics, the latent corporatism and power-seeking in both major political parties, and the inability of Congress to focus in a crisis.

The country is currently facing something unprecedented, to say the least: a crashing economy and massive unemployment due to actions taken by the government in a public health crisis to slow the spread of disease.

Even advocates of limited government would say this is the appropriate moment for the government to act, to step in with temporary and targeted assistance to help the country comply with measures taken to prevent the types of mass infection currently crippling countries like Italy and Spain.

This shouldn’t be hard. And, initially, it looked as though Congress was actually going to have a nimble and effective response. The early versions of the relief package negotiated in the Senate contained direct relief to families, a temporary expansion of unemployment insurance for those who’ve lost their jobs to the coronavirus response, and loan packages for small businesses that need a boost to make payroll and pay rent.

But in a town filled to the brim with lobbyists and politicians determined to use human suffering as a means to further their own political agendas, it didn’t take long for the whole thing to unravel.

Sunday

Late last week, as millions of Americans struggled to pay rent and governors begged for needed medical supplies, the lobbyists crawling over Capitol Hill like ants began to take their pound of flesh. Boeing, the company whose planes keep crashing, wanted a $60 billion bailout. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos wanted $5 billion to keep their commercial space company open. The hotel industry wanted $150 billion. Restaurants wanted $145 billion. Manufacturers? $1.4 trillion. Even the beer industry came calling with a $5 billion request. Not to miss out, the candy industry put in their note for $500 million. 

The Senate eventually bestowed favor on the airline industry with close to $60 billion in grants, loans, and loan guarantees. Boeing, with its army of lobbyists, got its own $17 billion carveout. A $500 billion pot of money was written into the bill to be dispersed to other industries at the discretion of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. 

By mid-afternoon on Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) abruptly ended negotiations with the Senate, declaring she would be writing her own coronavirus relief package. Senate Democrats, in apparent deference to the House Speaker, filibustered a vote on the Senate’s package later that day.

In New York and California, meanwhile, the National Guard units were deployed to build emergency quarantine centers. The FDA put out a letter to health care providers addressing the shortage of ventilators.  

Monday

On Monday, it became obvious what Senate Democrats were waiting for. Pelosi unveiled a 1,400-page bill that purported to be about the working families impacted by coronavirus, but was really an abject play for power. The families and businesses suffering in the public health crisis were actually just a convenient excuse to pass every single progressive wishlist item from the last decade.

Key provisions in the bill required states to implement same-day voter registration and mandated early voting across the country—two policies that encourage voter fraud. 

The chronically mismanaged U.S. Postal Service was given a multi-billion dollar bailout. The airline industry was required to offset their carbon emissions and post public breakdowns of their greenhouse gas emissions. Corporations were required to devote a portion of their budgets to diversity and inclusion offices and initiatives, and report on the racial and gender make up of their boards. The entire federal workforce was given collective bargaining rights and mandated payment for union activities. The list goes on.

Human suffering, for many Democrats, is apparently less of a problem than it is an opportunity to force woke diversity initiatives and the Green New Deal down the throats of Americans who can’t make rent.

Hours after the bill was released, Senate Democrats again filibustered the Senate’s bill with its direct relief provisions. 

That same day, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) became the first senator to test positive for the virus. A mobile testing site in Chicago closed due to a lack of testing supplies. Army field hospitals prepared for setup in New York and Seattle. Oregon, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania issued stay-at-home orders. Unemployment numbers continued to climb.

Tuesday

Whether it was because of the Pelosi bill or in spite of it, the legislative dam in the Senate was breaking by Tuesday. A bill that was supposed to prioritize the relief of American families and small businesses had already gotten weighed down with corporate largesse—and the pile-on was just beginning. 

Senate appropriators, who had already funded their pet projects for the year, would not volunteer to miss another opportunity. The Kennedy Center received $25 million. The National Endowment for the Arts got $75 million. So did the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds PBS and NPR. A new minority business development agency was created. The House was given an extra $25 million for “salaries and expenses” (which they claim is not a raise, but for telework assistance and food service contracts).  

By Tuesday, huge swaths of the American workforce were kept from their jobs. Layoffs were beginning across the country as businesses scrambled to keep from going under. Speaker Pelosi, meanwhile, seemed not to notice. In an interview, she said, “if we’re giving billions of dollars to the airlines . . . we could at least have a shared value about what happens to the environment.” 

At any point, Republicans in the Senate could have separated out the small business and direct family relief portions of the bill and approved them, while negotiating the corporate relief separately. They did not.

Wednesday

By Wednesday, draft after draft of the Senate’s bill was making its way into public view—but not via Senate staff. Staffers were left to beg their favorite lobbyist for a copy, as the Senate’s leadership refused to share initial drafts with individual members before the special interests had given their sign off.

In 24 hours, no fewer than 10 drafts of the Senate’s legislation were floated, one after another, with provisions tweaked for industry, or different government offices added or removed. In a later draft, a provision for private-sector unionizing appeared: if a business takes a coronavirus stabilization loan, they must “remain neutral in any union organizing effort for the term of the loan.” The Post Office suddenly got a $10 billion loan.

In the flurry, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) stumbled across what they thought was an error: the expanded unemployment assistance was actually paying people 100 percent of their wages, plus $600 more. This would incentivize layoffs, they argued, when the whole point of the bill was to keep people employed. 

The group assumed it had been a drafting error, a simple oversight made in haste. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took to the Senate floor to reassure them. No, it had been intentional, he said. There was nothing to fix.

A Sasse amendment to modify the provision to simply pay people 100 percent of their lost wages—instead of 100 percent plus a bonus—was defeated in a 48-48 tie.

Twenty minutes before the Senate’s vote, close to 11 p.m., the final 880 pages of text were released. The bill passed 96-0 without anyone, aside from the few leadership staff who wrote it, reading the final bill in its entirety. 

Thursday 

By Thursday, cases of coronavirus in the United States crested over 80,000, the most in the world (assuming, of course, that China is telling the truth about its cases, which is unlikely). Coronavirus patients in New York City were stressing hospitals’ intensive care units, requiring patients critically ill with other ailments to be sent elsewhere. The full-to-capacity morgue at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens is using a refrigerated truck to hold some of the dead. Some 3.3 million Americans had filed for unemployment over the past week, the highest number in history

The House of Representatives officially received the Senate’s legislation at 11:02 a.m. By 11:03 a.m., they had adjourned for the day. 

Friday

As of Thursday evening, the House planned to take up the Senate’s bill on Friday at 9 a.m. EDT. Though she hasn’t even passed the current bill, which has been delayed for days, Pelosi is already talking about the next relief package she wants to pass: permanent expansions of the food stamp program, more OSHA regulations. 

And who knows what else. As presidential candidate Joe Biden said this week, the Green New Deal can be “in the next round.”

This crisis has and continues to test all of us. And it has tested Congress. But instead of acting nimbly in the face of a crisis that has forced so many Americans into dire circumstances in response to a public health crisis not of their own making, they were met with legislators more interested in woke politics, corporate deference, ensuring government sinecures, and politicians intent on using human suffering to further consolidate their own power.

Great America

Fauci’s Folly

After 50 years in Washington, D.C., the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has become an overly cautious bureaucrat.

A decade or more after European studies suggested that chewing an aspirin within an hour of experiencing chest pain and other heart attack symptoms quickly began to dissolve blood clots in coronary arteries to restore blood flow to the heart, few American cardiologists were acting on this life-saving information.

Why? Controlled clinical trials in the U.S. hadn’t yet determined whether the benefit of preventing permanent heart damage or death outweighed the risk of a bleeding ulcer or triggering anaphylaxis—a rare, life-threatening allergic reaction to aspirin.

Even people with no medical training intuitively understand that in the throes of a heart attack that is depriving the heart and brain of oxygenated blood, a bleeding ulcer is not going to be listed as the cause of death—and doctors wouldn’t recommend this emergency intervention to patients for whom it is contraindicated.

But an over-abundance of caution caused avoidable death and disability before it became standard protocol to tell patients to call 911 and to chew on an aspirin while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Seems silly, right?

Well, it’s déjà vu all over again, when it comes to treating patients hospitalized with coronavirus and at risk of dying from severe respiratory complications.

During the daily briefings of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, repeatedly referred to reports from frontline clinicians that the combination of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin can completely clear coronavirus from the body within six days as “anecdotal” evidence.

The coronavirus pandemic is a medical story, not a political story. Yet, there are no medical journalists in the White House Briefing Room. To a medical journalist, “anecdotal” evidence is what doctors in the field are reporting. To a political journalist, “anecdotal” evidence is unsubstantiated hearsay.

Fauci knew—or should have known—that political journalists would report his characterization of clinical reports on the safety and efficacy of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin (HCQ+AZ) not as something “you hear out there” but as the president overhyping (or “lying” about) the benefits of the treatment.

Over and over again, Fauci also gave the false impression that the experimental treatment regimen would not, or could not, be given to severely ill patients before data from large-scale, randomized double-blind clinical trials becomes available: “My job as a scientist is . . . to prove without a doubt that a drug is not only safe, but it actually works.”

All well and good, but a clinician’s job is to save lives. And in the midst of a burgeoning global pandemic when speed is of the essence, field experience with two drugs whose safety profiles are well understood suffices to treat patients who are likely to die. For this reason, the FDA-approved chloroquine and remdesivir, an Ebola treatment, for “compassionate use.” Both drugs can be administered immediately to patients who have serious or life-threatening cases of coronavirus.

The combination of HCQ+AZ could cause abnormal heart rhythms and would not be given to patients with known atrial flutter or atrial fibrillation. Research suggests one alternative for these patients: The combination of chloroquine and zinc, which can stop the virus from replicating.

“Anecdotal” evidence typically prompts new, off-label uses (not FDA-approved) of available medications that eventually become standard treatment after the controlled clinical studies are done. For instance, doctors used HCQ off-label to treat lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and sarcoidosis, and this is now standard treatment for these conditions.

Making the perfect the enemy of the good, Fauci was dismissive both of clinical use of HCQ+AZ in China and South Korea, but also of small clinical trials in China and in France. The World Health Organization just announced a large global trial of HCQ+AZ, remdesivir, and a combination of HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir, but it also will not meet Fauci’s exacting methodological standards.

And like President Trump, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is optimistic enough about these results to have secured 10,000 doses of HCQ+AZ from the FDA, and will reportedly launch a clinical trial on the recommendation of Howard Zucker, the state’s health commissioner. This trial, too, will be quick and dirty, but it will quickly yield actionable “anecdotal” evidence.

There is one critical clinical trial Fauci should have initiated as soon as it became apparent hospitals nationwide lacked adequate supplies of face masks and shields, gloves, gowns, and other personal protective equipment to handle the pandemic: The prophylactic administration of HCQ to frontline healthcare personnel in coronavirus hot spots.

Doctors and nurses at one hospital in Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York City could be given the anti-malarial drug to see whether they are more resistant to coronavirus infection than their counterparts at another hospital in those cities not taking it.

After 50 years in Washington, Fauci has become an overly-cautious bureaucrat: “It probably would be several weeks and maybe longer before we know whether [containment measures] are having an effect.”

No, we will know by mid-April whether the rate of infection has been significantly slowed by taking bold action to augment containment with widespread clinical use of HCQ+AZ to cure hospitalized patients and reduce the length of time they can pass on the infection to others, as well as to prevent infection in those caring for them.

Not taking these steps will unnecessarily prolong the pandemic, which will unnecessarily prolong and deepen the adverse economic effects of federal and state containment efforts.

None of the White House correspondents at last Friday’s Coronavirus Task Force briefing had the wit to ask Fauci, “If your wife were lying in a hospital bed and is in danger of dying from coronavirus complications, would you give her hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin?”

It would be the medical journalist’s equivalent of CNN’s Bernard Shaw opening the second presidential debate between Vice President George H.W. Bush and Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988, by asking, “Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”

Great America

The Cost of Lies and Political Folly

Never have identity politics burned so fatuous. An intellectual luxury for idle times.

Well, at least we all now know that eating bats is not the delightful culinary jamboree we had assumed.

What about you? Not even remotely curious to clench your teeth into a little pangolin? The poor creature might resemble a poodle wrapped in tree bark, but its scales possess “healing powers,” if you believe that kind of thing.

Not at all tempted? Me neither.

Yet, such a delicacy is wildly popular among Chinese elites. So is telling lies.

Chy-nuh, as President Trump enunciates, is home to the Wuhan virus. That deadly virus locking one billion people indoors, freezing their livelihoods, and killing thousands.

Of course, the president is under tiresome fire for pointing this out. To call it the Wuhan or Chinese virus is “xenophobic.” Take a guess how Ebola got its name.

Perhaps in a time of global crisis, a little honesty wouldn’t go amiss. After all, lies, fabrications, and cover-ups exported Wuhan virus around the globe.

Back in November, the Chinese government crushed the concerns of doctors. Rather than erupt their façade of competence, President Xi and comrades branded dissenters as “rumor-mongers.” Such rumors cost Dr. Li Wenliang his 34 years of life.

This willful self-deception pushed the infected back to work in Italian factories and to do their business in Iran. The Wuhan virus began its drip-drip flooding of lungs before most of us knew its name.

Italy counts more dead than China (assuming the Chinese numbers are accurate—a shaky assumption at best). The faces of doctors are flush with helpless harrow.

Not until January, did the Chinese government admit something was up.

This is not to play the blame game. The truth matters. Studies suggest that honesty would have reduced cases by up to 95 percent.

Instead, Italian doctors leave the stricken to expire. Some wade through the desperations of not one or two patients, but 1,200. Their hospitals overrun, helpless in the viral squall.

One Italian doctor told Al Jazeera: “The disease is unpredictable. Patients are like candles that start flickering, before becoming feeble and eventually going out. Wheezing and shortness of breath precedes death. Patients with several underlying conditions are not taken to the ICUs. We do all we can,” he said, “to accompany them gently into their deaths.”

“They are afraid, alone and isolated. It is excruciating to see them dying like this. It is devastating to call their families.”

That is the cost of lies. And regimes built on lies have precedent.

Soviet authorities said the Chernobyl disaster was a routine fire. In truth, 500 Hiroshima bombs exploded, rendering strips of Chernobyl uninhabitable for 20,000 years. The official death toll? 31.

The balm of honesty might have shut down all flights from China. (As President Trump had such valuable foresight.)

That brief honesty could have relegated this horror-show to an unknown curiosity. We wouldn’t be locked inside our homes, fretting whether businesses, or the vulnerable among us, will see the summer.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week announced the strongest curbs to freedom in our recent history.

Now 62 million people are locked inside their homes. We are allowed out once per day.

I won’t bore you, dear reader. There is little less respirating than a Millennial prattling on about how “life will never be the same.” Piffle. A delivery man with a pipe-yellowed grin cradles French wine to my door. Another deposits literature. There’s classic football on TV. Bricks of cigarettes loom like Stonehenge. For me, at least, this is not the Tet Offensive.

For millions of others, however, the precarity drums an ominous din. Already, hundreds of families have lost a loved one. Our best hope in the UK is to escape this with under 20,000 deaths.

Yet, in times of crisis, true colors emerge. The Red Tory government announced last week a slew of measures. Workers will get 80 percent of their wages. Businesses have £350 billion (around $426 billion) in grants and tax cuts, to buoy them through.

Remarkably, half a million people signed up to Boris Johnson’s call for volunteers to help the NHS “flatten the curve.” He hoped for 250,000. Clearly, there is such a thing as society.

Perhaps, better news is slow to cross the Atlantic. Indeed, more than 3.3 million Americans filed last week for unemployment. An extraordinary figure tempered only by extraordinary circumstance. And not taken into account is the stimulus package. Painful, not yet permanent.

Doubtless, a figure some would like to make permanent. Many are eager for the Wuhan virus to ventilate their narrow interests.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose corrosive theatrics seem to honor the improperly medicated, found the time to scotch a rescue package for ordinary Americans. After all, she’s worth millions. Why not play games with the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Americans?

Because those still beguiled by political fantasy can scent what comes next. This global crisis has furloughed identity politics. Pretend problems dissolve like snowflakes hitting the lake of real problems.

While President Trump tries to mail $1,200 checks to desperate Americans, Pelosi demands a scroll of progressive fantasies. No doubt, $1,200 to Pelosi is a mere trifle.

Never has identity politics burned so fatuous. An intellectual luxury for idle times.

Of course, they still try. Nobody cares. Ask Main Street why the president calls it the “Chinese virus,” and they’ll tell you it’s a virus that emerged from China. Ordinary people can’t afford such exotic intellectual vacations.

Many agree. President Trump’s shaky start, no doubt hampered by impeachment, has steadied into decisive calm. Sixty percent approve of his handling of the crisis. Democrats, and independents have noticed.

Which is terrible news for Pelosi and company. This time, as detractors insisted, really is the end of the Trump presidency.

Hardly. This crisis has etched “open-borders,” “free trade,” “off-shoring,” into the post-Corona dictionary of folly. This crisis too shall pass.

China knows this, hence the risible attempt to blame America. Their left-wing American cheerleaders remain desperate to derail the president’s command. Think about that. They would rather thousands of American deaths amid the ruins of a new Great Depression than witness the president inoculate Americans against total ruin.

I suspect most can see that for what it is and in November, once this is history, will vote accordingly.

Yet a Great Depression will soon announce itself. Democrats will find their party has tested positive for a hapless, yet benign ailment named Joe Biden. And the Chinese government will vaccinate itself against the truth.

Great America

Census Tech and #TheResistance

We have already seen how some in the permanent bureaucracy have made it their mission to run interference against the current president’s policies. Government tech is yet another example of this.

Census notices started hitting mailboxes across America this week. For the first time ever, they offer the option of filling out census forms online. That’s a very good thing in this age of coronavirus, especially as the Census Bureau just took the unprecedented step of suspending field operations to protect the safety of the American people.

The move online notably also comes a month after the bureau suddenly changed its digital service provider. The Government Accountability Office on February 13 announced the bureau would shelve the response software it had bought from Pegasystems Inc. and switch to Primus, a software developed by the federal digital services agency 18F. The official reason for the move: “scalability issues.”

We don’t really know how much money was spent on the Pega software that will now not be used. Reuters reports that the  contract was “projected to cost about $167.3 million, but includes products and services beyond the shelved software.”

We do, however, know a bit more about 18F. A look at this in-house government agency gives an indication of the degree to which many government departments, down to the techies’ office, have been captured by the Left.

Judging by views expressed on social media, in press interviews, in op-eds and in blogs, 18F is staffed by a tightly knit group of ultra-progressive tech whiz kids with strong opinions on transsexual politics, the climate, income inequality, and so forth. Unsurprisingly, 18F has ties to Code for America, an equally progressive, San Francisco-based group.

Both outfits have strong links with the Obama White House.

18F was formed in 2014 to house President Obama’s Presidential Innovation Fellows, a program created after the 2013 HealthCare.gov fiasco. While the PIFs were techies who took year-long sabbaticals from their Silicon Valley jobs, 18F hired tech professionals for the long haul.

But with a new administration that was proposing conservative policies, many 18F workers expressed outright despair or decamped altogether to work for friendlier governments in the Canadian provinces or back to Silicon Valley.

“The reality is that many of the people who are qualified to do the technology, design, and digital strategy jobs that need doing in government are deeply disturbed by and in many cases fearful of many of Trump’s proposed policies. In transparency, I count myself among them,” wrote Jennifer Pahlka, the woman who helped found both Code for America and 18F.

In that same column, written just a month after the 2016 election, Pahlka urged her colleagues to stay on for two reasons: first, to make more government work faster and second, to form an internal resistance to policies the Left opposes.

“When it comes to policies that could harm our communities, whether in civil rights, the climate, immigration, or other arenas, resistance will be necessary to even maintain the status quo,” she wrote. “If the Trump administration fulfills its worst promises, people with conscience, fighting from the inside, could be our best hope of mitigating their worst effects.”

Other Silicon Valley people echoed Pahlka’s sentiment. Writing just three days after President Trump was inaugurated, Jessi Hempel, the head of editorial for Backchannel, proclaimed:

[W]hen you accept an appointment in the government, you don’t work for Trump. You work for the American people, upholding the values outlined in the Constitution. We need thoughtful progressive techies to put [the] American people first . . . what’s more, if you have the seat at the table, you have the ability to resist.

Hempel blithely elides the fact that the American people express themselves through their electoral choices, and that the president and his party’s majority in the Senate were duly elected. The Constitution, of course, is the bulwark of this arrangement, so upholding its values and working for the people would not be resisting political decisions.

Hempel goes on to quote tech guru Tim O’Reilly, who also happens to be Pahlka’s husband. “If we go, ‘How do we get all these Muslims registered so we can roll them into camps,’ or, ‘How do we get all these people deported’,” O’Reilly says, “there may be some things where we go, ‘No, actually we would like government to be incredibly inefficient with that’.”

Does that mean writing slower code for the policies chosen by a government elected by the American people but hated by the Left? What would have happened if the citizenship question the administration wanted in the census, but which the Left convinced the courts to take out, had been left in?

There is no app for knowing how many 18F staff hunkered in to follow Pahlka’s advice. (And the people who could write that app would certainly make it go very slow.)

StateScoop reports that, according to Pahlka, the progressive tech movement is now so deeply embedded in all levels of government, there is nothing the administration can do. “One of the things that makes me so hopeful about where we are is that we have built a fabric of people,” she was quoted as saying.

This appears to be more than wishful thinking. Consider the words of Matt Cutts, head of the U.S. Digital Service—another outfit established under Pahlka’s leadership in the Obama era. In 2018, Cutts told Wired that his service would be less likely to publicize how they help asylum seekers get better customer service in the current administration.

“We might talk more about how we save money,” he said gamely. Cutts, a former Google official tapped by Obama, gives generously to progressive causes.

We have already seen how some in the permanent administrative state have made their mission to run interference against the current president’s policies. Indeed, the impeachment fiasco was launched by a career official who fed information to the president’s congressional foes.

The Census Bureau is already a victim on this score. Its National Advisory Committee on Race and Ethnicity is Exhibit A of agency capture by leftist activists. Many of its members led the effort against including a citizenship question on the census.

Here is how the system is meant to work: Americans elect their leaders to implement the policies they want. They shouldn’t have their preferences slow-rolled or killed by an unelected, managerial elite high on tech and self-righteousness.

Great America

Living Well in Plague Time

Plague time is the worst time to become worse versions of ourselves. Instead of merely killing time, we have an opportunity to thrive.

President Trump last week referred to himself as a “wartime president.” Indeed, a feeling like the seriousness of war hangs thickly in the air. We have the choice, though, to determine to rise up under these present circumstances, not simply to survive in these days, but to thrive.

We’ve all watched in astonishment the dizzying speed with which life in America has been canceled over the last week. People are feeling anger, fear, despondency, and increasing apathy in response.

Thucydides described a devastating plague in 5th century Athens that similarly infected people with an overpowering moral apathy. “Men now did just as they pleased,” he wrote, “cooly venturing on what they had formerly done only in a corner… Perseverance in what men called honor was popular with none… Fear of gods or law of man there was none to restrain them.”

We’re not quite there yet, thankfully. But still, while under quarantine from COVID-19, the temptation will be strong to turn to some sort of immediate comfort or numbing distraction.

In Italy, a giant pornography website gave away free subscriptions to Italians in areas affected by the virus. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom declared marijuana dispensaries “essential” and therefore exempt from the general lock-down order. People must have some way to kill time, right?

These new circumstances raise the all-important question to our attention: how should we then live?

Learning in Wartime

I was feeling dispirited the other evening and wanted to distract myself with a few episodes of a TV show. My wife reminded me, however, that we had decided to give up TV for Lent and to spend that time instead doing evening prayer.

I started to protest, arguing that circumstances had changed, that it was now unreasonable not to resort to such vital pleasures. She wisely suggested that, given the gravity of these circumstances, our sacrifice was even more important now than before the virus upended our lives. In vain, I searched my mind for a counterargument; she had me in checkmate.

As I begrudgingly acquiesced to her better reasoning, an essay of C. S. Lewis came to mind called “Learning in War-Time.” It was a sermon Lewis gave at a church in Oxford in that direst of years during World War II, 1939.

It’s easy to imagine how absurd it must have seemed to British students at that time to study philosophy and literature in the face of the advance of the Nazi war machine. Debates over the meaning of themes in Shakespearean plays don’t seem very important in such times.

Lewis acknowledged the temptation to think that all of life must revolve around the war. He likened this temptation to that of the overly enthusiastic religious person who assumes that, because the soul is of greater importance than the body, one should do nothing but evangelism.

In truth, though, as Lewis wrote, “Neither conversion nor enlistment in the army is really going to obliterate our human life.” “You are not, in fact, going to read nothing,” he continued, “either in the Church or in the line: if you don’t read good books, you will read bad ones . . . If you reject aesthetic satisfactions, you will fall into sensual satisfactions.”

Human life, in other words, inescapably includes choices, every day, and there are no neutral choices: every choice contributes to a habit and a character, for good or for ill. During times of difficulty, our choices are all the more important since difficulty is a crucible: it tests us and shows us who we really are. Suddenly, Shakespeare’s beautiful descriptions of the immense consequence of human choice seem especially relevant.

Living Well in Plague Time

Lewis noted three particular “enemies” that make learning in war-time difficult: excitement, frustration, and fear. Likewise, these are three things that make living well in plague-time difficult.

There is a morbid excitement over how many new cases of the virus are confirmed or how many new deaths are reported. There is a despondent frustration regarding what recent event has been canceled and what new restriction is in place. There is an enervating fear of what may happen to the economy and our health.

All of these may lead one to become fixated on the news or social media and apathetic about doing anything productive, healthy, or compassionate. There are more temptations now than normally to live poorly. Practicing moderation in regard to pleasures and pains and steeling ourselves in the face of potential pain—fear—feels less appealing than binge-watching Netflix, eating junk food, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, and caring only that our own bodies avoid the sickness.

The irony is that there is more opportunity now than normally to live well because we will likely have more time on our hands and more occasions to help our families, friends, and neighbors.

Benjamin Franklin once observed, “The things which hurt, instruct.” These times of plague and financial depression are definitely going to hurt. We have the chance now to let them instruct us in the art of living well and, consequently, of self-government, but we must rise to the occasion to meet it, not sit down idly in apathy to endure it.

Lewis wrote: “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable.” Likewise, with us now, we must improve ourselves: we must exercise more, not less; eat healthier, not worse; read good books and watch good films, not pornography; we must pray more; we must be better neighbors if we would vindicate our claim to be a free people, capable of self-government.

Plague-time is the worst time to become worse versions of ourselves.

Great America

No Liberty Until No Death?

If we wait for no death until we demand a return of our liberty, we will have lost everything to this pandemic.

Man’s struggle for freedom is at least as old as the archetypal story of Moses leading his people out of bondage. Free will and freedom have always come at a cost. Yet in the last month, we have seen a sudden, though we hope temporary, surrender of freedoms in the country that has always paid the price for freedom.

The novel coronavirus response has almost totally curtailed the right to peacefully assemble. Our religious services now must be exercised through a computer screen. Governments are looking for ways to curtail gun purchases. The Department of Justice sought authority to detain suspects without a trial indefinitely.

Government agencies are dusting off their wish lists to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, much as they did in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Unrelated proposals like monitoring corporate board diversity and bailing out the U.S. Postal Service are put forward as ways to help fight the virus. There’s an opportunistic rush underway for money and power.

Is the coronavirus a sufficient threat to justify the surrender of all of these cherished freedoms? As I write, deaths in the United States remain relatively small when compared to the entire population. But the upward trend is alarming. In America, the daily rate of deaths is doubling roughly every 72 hours. Who knows? Within a couple of weeks, the horror stories from Italy may be commonplace in New York City.

Thus, the president’s expressed desire to restore “normal” to the United States seems premature, almost reckless. How can he contemplate relaxing the near-national lockdown we’re currently experiencing when continuing restrictions could save lives?

One answer may be a potential medical solution. Significant evidence supports the hypothesis that a family of drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, when combined with a common antibiotic, may prevent COVID-19 from killing its victim in most cases.

But the media have resisted this good news. Outlets have hyped the story of an Arizona man dying after taking a related chemical used to treat aquariums. But that’s not all. There’s a story of three overdoses in Nigeria. A small Chinese study failed to reproduce the results from the French study. Nevertheless, the FDA is fast-tracking the study of chloroquine and other drugs in the hope that an existing drug can be used to reduce mortality from the COVID-19 infection.

Americans are suffering under the quarantine and near-quarantine conditions. Setting aside the obvious economic disaster that continues to build, Americans are missing out on life. Weddings, funerals, church, family dinners, concerts, vacations, and countless other essential human activities have been canceled to fight the virus. Some can be rescheduled. Others can never be replaced. Young people, in particular, are missing cherished milestones like school dances, sports seasons, and irreplaceable classroom time.

Nobody wants people to die. But we have to agree upon a point at which this has to stop.

My son made this point: the flattening of the curve approach to managing this crisis comes at the cost of drawing out the pandemic over a longer timeline. Many point to this chart contrasting the strategies employed by Philadelphia and St. Louis in response to the 1918 flu pandemic. It seems to visually confirm the wisdom of social isolation. But the slowing of the spread of the virus also means we’re slowing the resolution of the crisis.

Pandemics of varying severity will always sweep through our population. The current panic over COVID-19 has presented a moment of rare opportunity for a growing authoritarian movement within the country. There’s talk of government take-over of factories or even whole industries. The Department of Justice is talking about making it a crime to hold needed privately owned items in a warehouse. We watch briefings to receive our daily instructions from our government officials on how to conduct our lives. The world is slowly shrinking for each of us as our lives increasingly become a de facto house arrest.

Zero deaths cannot be the standard for lifting the lockdown. We’ll never achieve zero deaths. Even as coronavirus abates, another illness will take its place. The opiate of power will be hard for many public officials to relinquish. A lot of people are going to get really rich from this panic.

Americans will eventually need to insist upon the return of their freedoms. If we wait for no death until we demand a return of our liberty, we will have lost everything to this pandemic.

Great America

Lessons from the Burst Zika Bubble

Disease epidemics are messy, fast and frightening, and they’ll keep coming. To prepare for the future, the least we can do at the end of one is to use the benefit of hindsight to assess how well we conducted ourselves.

Sometimes phenomena flare into public consciousness, crowd out other concerns, then disappear. Only later we realize that judicious assessment of the evidence might have saved a great deal of distress.

There are disturbing clues that the Brazilian Zika scare might have been one such phenomenon, fueled by fear, haste, and fallacious conclusions instead of scientific rigor.

The World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a global emergency in 2016 and introduced drastic measures. People panicked not because the mosquito-borne virus causes direct illness—mostly there are no symptoms or just mild malady—but because of the small heads, or microcephaly, that it was believed to inflict on babies born to infected mothers.

The media went wild, and there were calls to cancel the 2016 Rio Olympics. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control told women who were pregnant or might become pregnant to stay away from nearly 100 countries or regions.

The United States spent more than $1 billion battling the virus’s spread. The 6,000 or so Zika-research articles funded and published after 2014 represent 500-times the previous 50 years’ total.

But let’s zoom out 1,200 miles from Rio to look at the northeast Brazil city of Recife with its endemic poverty, tropical temperatures, and mosquito-friendly open sewage-canals. This was ground-zero for Zika and the babies with underdeveloped brains. It was here physicians perceived more small-head-circumference babies being born amongst the poor.

One of the first microcephaly babies to arouse suspicion of a viral cause was a non-identical twin whose brother was completely normal. Microcephaly is usually an inherited genetic condition or caused by the mother’s alcohol abuse or other toxin-exposure. With her personal clinical assessment that the appearance implied infection, a prominent neuropediatrician inferred a novel cause, despite the brother’s normality under identical circumstances.

She teamed up with a clinician who was investigating other neurological problems associated with an unknown mosquito-borne infection. They joined a WhatsApp group of physicians who communicated rapidly between themselves.

A lack of objective science followed. They issued an alert for small-head-circumference babies and gathered an increase in reports. But was the increase real? Clinicians couldn’t check, because Brazil had not been compiling microcephaly data against which to compare. When scientists eventually looked back at reconstructed data, they found no evidence of a Zika-coincident epidemic.

Second, the Zika diagnoses relied not on lab results but on mothers’ recollections of first-trimester symptoms, such as mild rash or fever. Brazil had no experience of Zika, so it was not equipped for unambiguous diagnosis. In any case, serum tests do a poor job of distinguishing whether the infecting virus was Zika, or its flavivirus-”cousin” dengue. Neither can they reveal how recently the infection occurred. The test that specifically detects Zika does so only briefly after the virus infects a patient.

Third, varying criteria seem to have been used to diagnose microcephaly. Perhaps clinicians used medical standards of normal head sizes that came from richer cities with better-nourished mothers and adults about three inches taller? Babies born into poverty tend to be smaller overall due to a gamut of poverty-related ills. Confusing smaller heads with microcephaly is akin to categorizing every short person as a dwarf. Looking back, it’s clear that in Recife the microcephaly prevalence tracked with income.

Furthermore, there were lower rates in parts of Brazil further away from the WhatsApp-axis.

In 2015, there was a perceived microcephaly increase and there were possible Zika or dengue infections. Any meaningful link between the two was vanishingly rare. An international team of researchers reported that in early 2016 there were 4,180 reported cases of microcephaly in Brazil suspected to be associated with Zika infection, of which only a fifth were investigated and classified. In the end, just six babies were positive for both Zika infection and central nervous system malformations.

Medical knowledge is dispositive: Zika is essentially harmless to humans. In the 60 years prior to 2007, only 14 human infections were documented, all mild, and none causing congenital issues.

More common flaviviruses, such as hepatitis-C and dengue, never cause congenital neurodevelopmental problems. Rubella-virus, which does, damages essentially all infected first-trimester embryos. The highest estimate for Zika puts its hit-rate at 7 percent.

This was likely a case of human instincts’ bowling over scientific rigor. The first instinct is to love babies and care for our young. Nobody wants to be responsible for something that delivers new parents their worst nightmare. Another is the tendency to see patterns whether they are there or not—particularly when you’re looking for them. Two tools that rein in this instinct are the scientific method and the analysis of statistical significance. They were not employed.

The Zika bubble has burst. The failure of the predicted pandemic to materialize is being put down to populations’ developing immunity. But following the initial 2015 Zika outbreak, there was a 2016 spurt of Zika cases in Brazil. In that year, however, according to a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, there was no reported increase in newborns with microcephaly.

No increase was found during the 2018 outbreak in Rajasthan, India, either.

Disease epidemics are messy, fast and frightening, and they’ll keep coming. To prepare for the future, the least we can do at the end of one is to use the benefit of hindsight to assess how well we conducted ourselves.

Great America

OctoPelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is also the blessed leader of the Golden State with an unexamined connection to Governor Gavin Newsom.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi turns 80 on Thursday. In the runup to that milestone, Pelosi launched impeachment proceedings against President Trump, who was duly acquitted. By way of follow-up, she decided to block the Senate’s coronavirus response package earlier this week, and on Monday offered a 1,200-page version of her own chock full of goodies meant to keep the Ocasio-Cortez-Tlaib-Omar squad in line.

And behind the scenes, Pelosi is pulling the strings on the Golden State.

“I want to thank Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” said California governor Gavin Newsom in his March 12 press conference telling 40 million Californians to stay home. “We had a very long conversation today. Talk about meeting the moment. We are so blessed to have her leadership in California. She’s very familiar to northern Californians, certainly familiar to me as a former mayor of San Francisco.”

Listeners might not have known the other ways in which Nancy Pelosi is familiar to the governor, whose grandfather, William Newsom, helped Pat Brown win the 1943 race for San Francisco district attorney.

In 1960, with the Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Governor Pat Brown awarded the concession to William Newsom and John Pelosi. In 1963, John’s son Paul married Nancy D’Alesandro, daughter of congressman and Baltimore mayor Thomas D’Alesandro. In 1969, Paul and Nancy Pelosi moved to San Francisco, where Paul’s brother Ron was a county supervisor. Ron married William Newsom’s daughter Barbara, so Nancy Pelosi was Gavin Newsom’s aunt by marriage until the couple divorced.

Nancy Pelosi has been in Congress since 1987 and quickly established her credentials as a woman of the Left. In 2001, long after Stalinist union boss Harry Bridges was exposed as a Soviet agent, Pelosi praised Bridges in the Congressional Record as “arguably the most significant labor leader of the twentieth century.” Pelosi was also a fan of Vincent Hallinan, Bridges’ lawyer and the 1952 candidate for president of the Progressive Party, a Communist front.

The Communist Party USA, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Soviet Union, ran candidates in U.S. elections from the 1920s to 1984. That year CPUSA presidential candidate Gus Hall, for whom then-college student and now former CIA Director John Brennan voted in 1976, teamed with Angela Davis, winner of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1979. As in 1980, the Communists lost to Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. After that, the CPUSA urged voters to support the Democratic Party. Harry Bridges’ acolyte Nancy Pelosi was one of the party’s fiercest partisans, and that trait emerges in Gavin Newsom.

In an interview with Politico last year, Newsom said Republicans were destined for “the waste bin of history,” an echo of what Ronald Reagan, a former California governor, said of the USSR. He also referenced “the experience and temperament of Speaker Pelosi” a woman with “better sense than a lot of folks.” Her one-time nephew has not come across as a leftist ideologue, but the coronavirus may have tipped his hand.

Newsom’s Executive Order N-25-20, issued on March 12, “readies the state to commandeer hotels and medical facilities to isolate and treat COVID-19 patients,” and also “readies the state to commandeer property for temporary residences and medical facilities for quarantining, isolating or treating individuals.”

As Milton Friedman observed, temporary government measures have a tendency to become permanent.

Newsom’s budget provides nearly $100 million for the health care of foreign nationals illegally present in the United States. Newsom has not announced support for stepping up cooperation with federal border enforcement that would prevent carriers of coronavirus and other contagions from entering the United States. It remains unclear whether the state’s sanctuary law would protect those who defy quarantine measures.

If Californians believed Newsom drew these ideas from Nancy Pelosi it would be hard to blame them. After all, as the governor said, “We are so blessed to have her leadership in California.” But what about the nation?

As Tad Friend observed in the New Yorker, “Newsom seeks to embody [Bobby] Kennedy’s grainy glamour, to provide moral clarity in a bewildering hour.” The governor wears Ermenegildo Zegna shirts and his hair is “lacquered with Oribe gel.” So Nancy Pelosi, who turns 80 today, might be grooming her boy for a run at the White House in 2024.

Great America

America’s Amazing Neighborhood Response to the Coronavirus

Tocqueville’s words again come to mind: “What most astonishes me in the United States is not so much the marvelous grandeur of some undertakings as the innumerable multitude of small ones.”

“When the world seems large and complex, we need to remember that great world ideals all begin in some home neighborhood.” —Konrad Adenauer

The coronavirus has triggered a disruption of ordinary life most of us would’ve considered unimaginable a few weeks ago. Some jobs have vanished as if by a cruel magician’s trick; others have mutated beyond recognition. Parents have become school teachers, while school teachers struggle to find how best to continue practicing their profession from behind computer screens.

At a time when our level of stress has increased geometrically, the resources to which we most often turn to rest and recharge have shut down—restaurants, bars, sports arenas, theatres, clubs, even churches. We’re worried that even the basic necessities of life will be difficult or even dangerous to obtain.

At the same time, however, something splendid is also occurring, something that happens in America when terrible events confront us: without being asked or directed by any official body or under the supervision of any organization, individual citizens are using social media and creativity to identify and address each other’s needs.

Take my neighborhood, for example—the Park West neighborhood of Montpelier, Vermont. Despite the upscale name, we’re a blend of families and individuals of diverse income levels, ages, talents, and needs. Some of us are elderly. Some are battling cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and more. Many of us have children, some with severe disabilities. Most of the time—very much in the tradition of Vermont—we’re private folks who keep to ourselves. But—again, very much in the tradition of Vermont—when our neighbors need help, we quietly and sincerely offer it.

A few days ago, a neighbor from a few blocks away sent an email to several of the people she already knew in the neighborhood, suggesting we develop a systematic way of looking after each other, letting our neighbors know what challenges we were facing and what kind of help we could offer. Within a few days, we set up a private group Facebook page and a listserv to facilitate communications. We have a private database providing our contact information and indicating what help we can offer or might need.

Members of high-risk groups now have someone willing to get them groceries or pick up prescriptions without endangering their health; folks on limited incomes don’t have to cut back on groceries in order to pay to have them delivered. The EMT and health care workers among us can find safe, familiar faces to keep an eye on aging parents and children while they’re busy taking care of others. Parents suddenly thrust into the role of teacher can swap ideas and strategies. Some of us have extra supplies to offer that can help others out.

People who didn’t know each other’s names two weeks ago are actively helping each other. One woman has, for a week, met students of a variety of ages on a quiet cross street every afternoon, taking them for a lively, half-hour walk, everyone keeping at a safe social distance. This not only gives the children much-needed exercise but also helps provide an atmosphere of normalcy that is important to preserve, especially for the young.

A Self-Governing Tradition

Such independent, self-organizing responses to the recognition of a local need are, and long have been, common in America.

During his tour of America in the 1830s, the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville was struck by what seemed to him a distinctly American trait—how neighbors banded together to solve problems rather than following the European model of relying on some established, centralized body to take the lead. In Democracy in America, Tocqueville observed:

Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations . . . . Americans combine to give fêtes, found seminaries, build churches, distribute books, and send missionaries to the antipodes. Hospitals, prisons, and schools take shape in that way. Finally, if they want to proclaim a truth or propagate some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form an association. In every case, at the head of any new undertaking, where in France you would find the government or in England some territorial magnate, in the United States you are sure to find an association. I have come across several types of association in America of which, I confess, I had not previously the slightest conception, and I have often admired the extreme skill they show in proposing a common object for the exertions of very many and in inducing them voluntarily to pursue it.

An unforgettable example of large-scale, yet local, spontaneous organization is offered by the Cajun Navy, which set sail in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. On August 30, 2005—just two days after New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered the city’s 1.3 million residents to evacuate—80 percent of the city was underwater, stranding approximately 60,000 people who’d been unable or unwilling to leave. Thousands of people were marooned by bacteria-laden floodwaters up to 20 feet deep, leaving citizens trapped, often on rooftops, without access to food or water.

With city, state, and federal rescue efforts initially overwhelmed, Louisiana State Senator Nick Gautreaux sent out a desperate plea through local television and radio, asking anyone who owned a boat and was willing to volunteer for this dangerous, difficult task to meet up at the Acadiana Mall in Lafayette. He prayed that a couple of dozen good people would respond. Instead, waiting patiently in the mall parking lot were more than 350 boats and their volunteer crews.

The danger these volunteers faced was extraordinary—filthy floodwaters filled with debris, horrid little islands of fire ants eager to sting, and poisonous snakes, not to mention terrified citizens who might mistake them for looters and shoot. “If you’re afraid of death, possibly you get shot or killed, then this is not a place for you to come,” Sen. Gautreaux warned. “And I will tell you,” he later told CBS News reporters, “there’s not a person that turned around.”

Ignoring government officials’ demands they abandon this wildly dangerous endeavor, the eight-mile armada of Cajun Navy vessels sailed by into New Orleans, where they saved thousands of lives.

Lt. General Russel Honoré, the Louisiana native who headed the federal response to Katrina, recognized the Cajun Navy for the extraordinary work they did as first responders in the wake of Katrina. “In reality most people are saved by neighbors and volunteers after a disaster than are saved by organized rescue people,” Honore observed.

Local Expertise Often Trumps National Intervention

Increasingly, the philanthropic world has come to share Tocqueville’s and General Honoré’s insight: that the most efficient and effective philanthropic efforts are almost always local in origin and focus. This is the antithesis of the assumption that governed most 20th-century philanthropy—that the larger and more centralized a charitable effort was, the better it would serve those it aimed to help because of its expertise in areas such as top-down goal-setting and supply chain management.

Clearly, some problems are best handled by governmental or large nonprofit organizations. But increasingly we are realizing that, for most problems, the assumption that bigger is better is by no means always the case. Because of their size, large organizations must be structured bureaucratically and rarely respond nimbly to dynamic situations.

Most importantly, however, centralized organizations lack the most precious resource local associations have—local knowledge.

Even the most gifted, experienced professionals coming into a new community will have a learning curve to become familiar with local needs and solutions. Local people come to local problems with an invaluable knowledge base of who in the community is most likely to need or provide help. We know who owns the local lumber yard and furniture store, who’s got a wheelchair they can spare, and where you’re apt to find people who have a few free hours and a willingness to help.

My neighbor began organizing our Montpelier Park West Group precisely because she had that kind of local knowledge. As a physical therapist, she’d worked with a number of us in the community, either through her private practice or through the public schools.

Today, the popularity of email and social media—especially Facebook—prompts an expansion of our definition of “neighborhood.” Many of us spend a good deal of time online, connecting and reconnecting with family and friends and, often, creating friendships and ties as strong as those we enjoy offline. It’s no longer unusual for us to number among our closest friends several people we’ve never “met” in the traditional sense but who nonetheless we have come to know through extended exchanges via email or Facebook.

When the residents of our online neighborhoods identify a need, we combine forces to address them using the technology that binds us together. Some of the help we provide is formal: we set up kickstarters to help each other defray the overwhelming medical bills of one neighbor’s brother or to provide another’s daughter with the funding she needs for a demo record to launch her promising career in music.

Online neighborhoods can also offer rapid, informed assistance in response to a common emergency. Just as my Montpelier neighbors are working together to combat COVID-19, so, too, are some of my online neighborhoods creating informal associations in a manner Tocqueville would find familiar.

Consider, for example, the current shortage of respirators for hospitals treating patients whose lungs the virus has attacked. Through Facebook and email, a friend with decades of successful experience as a bioengineer is combining intellectual forces with other field experts in an open-source project to rapidly develop such a respirator.

Tocqueville’s words again come to mind: “What most astonishes me in the United States is not so much the marvelous grandeur of some undertakings as the innumerable multitude of small ones.”

Great America

Social Distancing Must Not Destroy American Greatness

John Adams could teach 21st-century Americans a thing or two about persevering in the midst of a crisis. Above all, we should think twice before abandoning our freedom of association.

What did it mean when John Adams wrote that our Constitution was created for a “moral and religious people,” and thus, by implication, without faith our government could not be maintained? For many of America’s Founders, religion meant Christianity, and Christianity meant the idea that God was incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ, was sacrificed for our salvation, and then, after having died, rose from the dead, thus demonstrating the reality of divinely offered eternal life.

Put slightly differently, and in a slightly less sectarian manner, our revolutionary-era governments relied on the bedrock principle that there was a higher being than humans, one who, as the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 put it, rewarded the good and punished the wicked. Mere temporal sanctions would not assure good government, that was something only belief in God could do.

To state these ideas is to reveal their strangeness, at least to many contemporary Americans, because the story of the late 19th and 20th centuries is a loss of faith caused by the horrific European wars and the Holocaust and the proliferation of an educational system divorced from its original grounding in religion.

Young people, who only a few weeks ago were still on their college and university campuses, now seem to be obsessed with two things—climate change and inclusion. Their ideology of equality and immediacy deprives them of perspective, and the similar narrowness of focus of their professors, teaching highly specialized topics, makes it all but impossible for many to reach for something greater, to regain the spiritual sense that once permeated American higher education.

What Makes American Life Unique

The creed of one once-great American university, “For God, for Country, and for Yale,” which captured an earlier ethos, has a dissonance to the modern ear.

That old Ivy-League summation channeled Adams, however, and revealed an objective and timeless truth: that meaning in life comes from association, from identity with a religious tradition, with patriotism, and with intermediate institutions such as schools, churches, clubs, and fraternal associations.

It was this association and these institutions that impressed Alexis de Tocqueville when he visited America in the early 19th century, and he correctly concluded in his masterwork Democracy in America, that without these essential aspects of our national character American self-government could not flourish.

In this time of coronavirus crisis this lesson remains valid, and we now face a real danger that American freedom of association, the absolute essential to preserve popular sovereignty, good government, and what makes American life unique and worthwhile may be lost.

As this is written, California, New York, and Illinois are in something close to total lockdown, other states may be contemplating the same thing, and the citizens in those states, essentially, are prohibited from associating with each other, save within their families. Intermediate associations are on hold for an indefinite period, and though they may still have some virtual existence on-line, this is an impoverished simulation of the real thing. Institutions need real human contact to endure, and if confined only to cyberspace they will eventually evaporate into that ether.

The Only Imperative

It is not hard to understand how we have arrived where we are. When there is a national and international loss of faith in life eternal, earthly existence is all there is, and the desire to prolong that temporal being, the instinct for self-preservation, becomes the only imperative.

The World Health Organization and our own Centers for Disease Control and the White House Coronavirus Task Force are now, for all practical purposes, our international and national governments. They have somehow managed to convince our leaders that our paramount goal is to, in the words of the task force’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, to “flatten the curve,” to reduce the potential level of coronavirus infection—by social distancing—so that fewer are infected, and thus fewer die.

But there is nothing in our Constitution about “flattening the curve,” and the suspension of American businesses, the destruction of American wealth in equities, the concomitant economic chaos and growing unemployment, and, in general, what amounts to the removal of not only freedom of association, but also the suspension of freedom of contract and the use and maintenance of private property, is something unprecedented, deleterious, and a danger to our very way of life.

The Constitution and our other institutions and practices are strong enough to sustain us, the American people still have common sense, and we are not so obtuse that we require bureaucrats to dictate how we must live our lives.

God willing (if one may still write in such a manner) this current panic will subside in a few weeks, life will return to near normal, in the fall school classes will resume, and the financial markets will come roaring back.

Still, a precedent will have been set, and who is to say that the next pandemic (and there will be one, indeed one probably every flu season) will not result in the same measures.

Learning to Recover What’s Been Lost

This is the way in which liberty can be permanently lost, this is the manner in which popular sovereignty is replaced by the tyranny of specialized experts, and this is what happens when faith erodes, and the preservation of fragile lives, and, indeed, lives on respirators, becomes the most important goal.

We have all but forgotten what life is for, what once made this country great, and what could still sustain it. Life is fragile, but it is that fragility that also gives it beauty and inclines us to reverence and awe. Health measures are, of course, necessary, but life—and death—are part of the natural order, and humans cannot change that, however much we place our faith in science.

While we have this period of enforced federal and local disassociation—the implementation of the truly dreadful concept of “social distancing” (something only icy-souled secular technocrats could have created)—perhaps we can spend some time reading Tocqueville, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, or—better still—the Old and New Testaments to recover something of that world and nation we’ve lost. It’s what John Adams would advise.

Great America

Greatness in America in the Time of Coronavirus

Are we a people who shrink in fear, turning a blind eye to the poor and excluded? Or are we capable of generosity even in times of precarious means for ourselves?

In 258 A.D., a young Roman deacon named Lawrence was entrusted by his superiors with the honor of managing the early Church’s then-modest material wealth. These were treacherous times for the faithful. It was a period of great persecution of Christians in Rome, and Lawrence’s new position was as dangerous as it was honorable. Yet Lawrence rose to the call, and when soon after his promotion a Roman prefect summoned Lawrence on behalf of the imperial treasury, he rose again.

The purpose of this second call was for the Roman prefect to demand Lawrence turn over the Church’s wealth to the state. Lawrence responded by asking for three days to gather the riches. Granted tenuous permission, he worked for those three days to distribute what wealth the Church had to the indigent. When Lawrence returned three days later, he presented the sick, the orphaned, the lonely, the crippled, and the suffering to the official as “the wealth of the Church.” Legend has it that Lawrence quipped to his administrator, “the Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.”

As punishment, he was quite literally grilled to death, announcing to his tormentors to flip him when he had become thoroughly cooked on one side. (St. Lawrence is the patron saint of cooks and the poor.)

Today in New York City, centuries after St. Lawrence’s martyrdom and miles south of the great North American river named for him, a team of faithful laity are putting their lives and livelihoods on the line in the same spirit of the early Christian martyr: charity for the needy, even in times of great uncertainty for all.

Not Just a Meal, A Journey

New York City Relief is a mobile outreach program geared toward providing the city’s growing homeless population with the tools they need not merely to survive, but to forge a new path for themselves into a more optimal way of life. Every Wednesday through Saturday, the team at NYC Relief drive their service bus to one of their long-established service points throughout the city. Out of the bus, they provide food, hygiene kits, and socks for their guests. For the first few hours of the visit, guests (many of whom are consistent visitors) have community with familiar faces while enjoying a hot, nutritious meal.

As food distribution wraps up, the unusual aspect of NYC Relief’s service begins: fellowship. The organization offers counseling services to guests, connecting them to shelter and employment partners, mental health services, and social resources that so many will use to take responsibility for their lives and get back on their feet. Volunteers pray with guests.

At the core, NYC Relief sees that the root of homelessness is a loss of community. The organization’s abiding sense of the importance of community, motivated by faith, allows them to provide for thousands of people in need every week not just physically, but spiritually and socially.

I spoke with Nicholas Di Iorio, NYC Relief’s community engagement officer, on Friday. “We are the mortar that flows through the bricks of these different networks,” he said of the organization’s critical role in the community. “We know who the right contacts are.”

“Through NYC Relief, our guests and friends are not just getting food or a meal. They’re getting a journey to walk on,” Di Iorio explained. “It’s the beginning of a relationship, and we expect to walk alongside them on their journey. No one is denied or rejected because of a past life of mistakes they’ve made, even and especially if they’re not Christian. We provide these services free of charge, no questions asked, and we expect and often see over time that they begin to change their life.”

The Homeless Will Suffer Disproportionately

As coronavirus exacerbates the problem of homelessness in many American urban centers nationwide, NYC Relief is feeling the pressure of institutional failure acutely. On an average outreach day, NYC Relief will serve about 200 guests. Di Iorio mentioned that on Thursday, NYC Relief saw this number quadruple to nearly 800 guests.

There are a couple of reasons for the spike in needy persons. For one, the city has locked down. Stores and restaurants where the homeless might usually eat, use the restroom, or wash are shuttered. Many public shelters have stopped taking new residents so as to limit the spread of infection. Then there are the volunteer services that have scaled-down. Di Iorio predicts that layoffs as a result of COVID-19-induced economic downturn will continue to put several more people out on the street, despite limitations on evictions.

Just as coronavirus may exacerbate homelessness, homelessness has the potential to drastically worsen the spread and intensity of the illness.

For coronavirus to enter the homeless community would be an unmitigated disaster for all. Lack of hygiene and inability to quarantine will magnify coronavirus among the homeless as well as anyone walking the streets of New York. Homeless people disproportionately will suffer due to many of the existing health issues that contribute to their homelessness in the first place.

Uniquely among services for the homeless, NYC Relief remains fully engaged amid the crisis. Of course, the team has adjusted their practices to mitigate the spread of infection. In order to minimize exposure while maximizing care, gloves, face masks, and practices such as bleach cleaning all surfaces every 30 minutes are in place at every outreach. “We have already made the decision to continue serving,” Di Iorio adds, “and we will, but in order to provide adequate food and medical supplies to our friends, we need help.”

“We Cannot Afford to Lose Our Humanity”

NYC Relief relies on both financial and in-kind donations in order to do their work. Information on how to donate can be found here, and more information about the organization, its purpose, practice, and success stories can be found here. Di Iorio was recently interviewed by Raymond Arroyo at EWTN; that interview can be found here.

Asked about the threat of coronavirus, Di Iorio said, “As a society, we need to find a balance between social distancing and social responsibility. The crisis cannot be an excuse to completely isolate physically while also isolating emotionally and spiritually from the most vulnerable. The one thing we cannot afford to lose is our humanity.”

Despite ever-encroaching state power and discrimination, St. Lawrence’s heart was illuminated by a courageous, unflappable, active love of those less fortunate. His story resonates especially strongly in times like these—times which will inevitably show us who we are. Are we a people who shrink in fear, turning a blind eye to the poor and excluded? Or are we capable of generosity even in times of precarious means for ourselves? As a patriot, I prefer to believe the latter.

Great America

Watch for Waste in Stimulus Spending

Americans are rightfully worried about the health of their friends, families, and 401Ks. We are, too. People shouldn’t also have to worry that federal emergency funds meant to save lives and livelihoods are being wasted to put fish on treadmills or renovate an opera house.

The Trump Administration and Congress are hashing out a stimulus package expected to cost taxpayers over $2 trillion to combat the devastating effects of the coronavirus outbreak on workers, businesses, and the economy. American families are hurting and Congress has a responsibility to consider targeted measures that help those who are feeling the economic effects of this pandemic. However, even in times of crisis, systems for transparency and accountability are needed to ensure these precious public dollars are not wasted.

With the pork stuffed into some of the COVID-19 stimulus proposals—like Democrats’ plan to bail out the U.S. Postal Service’s debt, reform small newspapers’ pension programs, and give a $35 million payout to D.C.’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts—we need to be vigilant to ensure this stimulus doesn’t turn into a slush fund as others have.

A decade ago, President Barack Obama enacted an $862 billion stimulus package to reverse the Great Recession that followed the financial crisis. The program fell short of its lofty job creation, infrastructure, and growth goals, in part because too much stimulus money was spent on irrelevant and inefficient programs.

Many people have heard about the $535 million in stimulus money wasted when failed solar panel company Solyndra went under, but waste, fraud, and abuse under the previous stimulus program were widespread.

In 2010, a year after the stimulus was passed, former Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) released their now-legendary report, “Summertime Blues: 100 stimulus projects that give taxpayers the blues.” The report highlighted Obama stimulus projects that the Senators said had “questionable goals,” were “being mismanaged or were poorly planned” and were even “costing jobs and hurting small businesses.”

One infamous example from the stimulus report that attracted the ire of fiscal hawks and animal-lovers was a $144,541 National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded experiment that hooked monkeys on cocaine. Coburn and McCain wrote, “Researchers at Wake Forest University think that, in at least one case, it is good to monkey around with your stimulus dollars.”

Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) later uncovered a study that used $560,000 in Obama stimulus money from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to put fish on treadmills

Surely, this is not how Americans intended for this stimulus money to be spent, and the opportunity still exists for this abuse of taxpayers under the guise of a national emergency.

Earlier this month, Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) lambasted an NSF-funded study that wasted over $900,000 to place dead turtles and living turtles on a treadmill to study how they move. White Coat Waste Project recently exposed that the NIH shipped over $6 million in tax dollars to a U.K. university to addict monkeys to cocaine, heroin, and alcohol and wasted more than $16 million scaring monkeys with fake snakes and spiders. 

Wasteful junkie monkey experiments and treadmill tests are alive and well, and we can’t let government bureaucrats and special interests exploit a tragedy again to funnel vulnerable taxpayers’ money to their pet projects. 

Something the Obama Administration’s stimulus bill got right was assigning an independent body to oversee stimulus projects and launching Recovery.gov to track spending and report abuse. For each project, the now-defunct government website reported how much money was spent, the number of jobs created, and other details. 

Any stimulus bills that make it to the president’s desk should include a mechanism for independent oversight of spending and mandate a transparent and user-friendly system allowing taxpayers and lawmakers to hold government accountable for where stimulus money is going and what impact it has on the economy.

Americans are rightfully worried about the health of their friends, families, and 401Ks. We are, too. People shouldn’t also have to worry that federal emergency funds meant to save lives and livelihoods are being wasted to put fish on treadmills or renovate an opera house.

Great America

The Death of Motivational Speakers

Will the coming reality mean an end to the toothy grin of the confidence artist and the idiocy of the bullshit artist?

Before the plague ends, expect an end to what plagues workers and capital.

Expect people to stop listening to speakers who conflate passion with profundity, intensity with intelligence, enthusiasm with enlightenment.

Expect motivational speakers to go the way of so many televangelists and online preachers, sermonizing to cameras instead of congregants; repenting to millions instead of offering a dollar or dime of recompense; filibustering for time, and wasting ours, instead of using their time to think about their crimes of arrogance, pride, certainty, lust, and greed.

Crimes of injustice, regardless of what our judicial system allows, because it is wrong to abuse workers by requiring them to listen to or repeat nonsense from ministers in T-shirts and jeans—from men without collars or cassocks—who sound like prophets and profit from the sound of their own voices.

Their voices belong more to the cult of Jobs than any verses about Job. Their voices have no trace of doubt, while their lamentations sound even worse than we remember: complaints about people who worry more about acts of service than customer service, about lives of goodness than goods and services, about saving souls than gaining the whole world.

That these speakers have certain rights does not mean we have a responsibility to speak or assemble on their behalf.

On the contrary, we have a duty to shun these speakers—because the gospel of prosperity is an industry, not a paean to thrift and industry.

It is a secular chant with a sectarian melody, exalting the house of the Lord by exulting in mansions of marble and gold.

It is the toothy grin of the confidence artist and the idiocy of the bullshit artist.

It is everything we should hate, in a contest between scrip and the Scriptures, which no amount of money can labor to increase and no abundance of silver can satisfy.

Aware of temptation, and fearful of destruction and perdition, our motivation is clear: to avoid motivational speakers.

Great America

Use the Defense Production Act

The best way for those concerned about government overreach to get what they want is to see this crisis end quickly. And that means in part, putting the right tools in the hands of those who need them.

President Trump last week invoked the Defense Production Act, a law enacted during the Korean War that allows the federal government to direct American industry to produce products required for the national defense. The president has since declined to use the rights given him under the DPA. He shouldn’t. It’s time to act.

While I appreciate governmental restraint and his hesitancy to use what Peter Navarro called, “the heavy hand of government” to direct private businesses, we are not currently in a period of limited government action.

Government has ordered something like a quarter of the country into lockdown, all “nonessential” businesses are closed in many states, travel is banned between the United States and more than 30 countries, the Congress is on the cusp of passing a $2 trillion emergency spending bill, and the Federal Reserve has committed to unlimited trillions of dollars of quantitative easing in the form of bond market purchases.

Yet, somehow speeding the production and acquisition of medical equipment has been deemed a bridge too far. This makes no sense.

At present there are shortages of critical equipment used by healthcare providers, including N95 respirators, surgical gowns, the ventilators required to keep critically ill COVID patients breathing, along with certain pharmaceuticals, including hydroxychloroquine. That drug has been used in apparently successful small trials in both France and the United States to treat coronavirus both alone and in combination with azithromycin.

Additional trials are underway, and let’s hope they are successful. Both drugs are available off-patent—meaning they are relatively inexpensive—and there are existing manufacturers for both of them. A drug therapy for coronavirus that combines two well-known, widely available drugs would be a blessing. But it would also mean that we would need dramatically more of both drugs than their manufacturers were planning to produce. And because of the promise shown, there are already spot shortages of hydroxychloroquine—some hospitals are reportedly stockpiling the drug, which is also used as a treatment for Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, putting existing users in potential peril.

Action is required to provide adequate—even abundant—supplies of all of these products where they are needed and it should be done quickly. How different would the reaction to coronavirus be if there were adequate supplies available on-demand where they were needed? Over the weekend we learned that the nation’s strategic reserve of N95 masks was substantially depleted during the 2009 swine flu outbreak and never resupplied. That’s a government-created shortage that they have an obligation to correct as quickly as possible.

Conservatives have longstanding and well-founded concerns about government overreach and accompanying unintended consequences. I share them. But conservatives should also recognize that there are certain essential roles that government plays and that in its proper sphere it should act decisively and hold itself to the highest moral and professional standards.

If there is one thing that government exists to do, it is to defend the lives and property of its citizens from threats which they are ill-suited to defend against on their own. External enemies and criminals are obvious examples. But new, dangerous, poorly understood pathogens meet the definition, too.

Conservatives in the White House backing trillions in spending and bailouts to corporations, but refusing to use the DPA to provide critical healthcare supplies where they are needed are sorely misguided. The Heritage Foundation, in a 2019 report advocating some reform of the DPA, wrote that the law “has been used successfully over the years. In many respects, the act is well suited to addressing key weaknesses in the industrial base. Prioritizing contracts for materials to prevent breaks in the supply chain, and providing funding for items that would not be produced by the commercial market in a timely manner, are invaluable tools for national security.”

The threat from coronavirus and its economic fallout is clearly a national security threat. We have millions of people out of school, out or work, and idly quarantined at home. We have a stock market that is down over 30 percent in the past few weeks, and an economy that Goldman Sachs predicts will shrink by 6 percent this quarter and 24 percent next quarter—a decline not seen since the Great Depression. That leaves America weaker.

Yet, we have a lack of equipment to fight the virus where it’s needed. Yes, markets work. But they take time to adjust. What DPA action does is compress the time it takes market signals to set changes in motion into days rather than weeks or months. That would be a great boon to the country, because the sooner we get people out of hospitals, out of their houses, back to school, and back to work, the better off we will all be. And it also moves the country away from multi-trillion dollar bailouts and allows the Federal Reserve to unwind its market interventions.

The 2020 bailouts are likely to reinforce some of the most politically and culturally destabilizing aspects of the 2009 bailouts. Conservatives beware. There is an unattractive trend in Washington to privatize profits and socialize losses.

But worse is that the economic fallout from the attempts to flatten the coronavirus curve is going to hit small business and the middle class hard. Amazon and Costco, for example, will emerge stronger and more dominant while local businesses take it on the chin. Similarly, the Cantillon Effect will virtually guarantee that the benefits of the Fed’s quantitative easing regime accrue to those closest to the new money supply: banks, other financial companies, big businesses. Reinforcing this trend is socially and politically destructive.

A conservative solution would focus on getting people back to work and that means, in part being able to get the supplies necessary for frontline healthcare workers to treat them effectively. The objection from Trump’s advisers can’t be the cost. The total cost of purchasing massive supplies of PPE, ventilators, and certain drugs could amount to no more than $10-$20 billion. That’s a lot of money, but in the context of the trillions being spent in Washington right now, it’s nothing.

The best way for those concerned about government overreach to get what they want is to see this crisis end quickly. And that means in part, putting the right tools in the hands of those who need them. Using the Defense Production Act, President Trump can see that this happens quickly.

Great America

Can Ron DeSantis Bring Some Sanity to Coronavirus Overreaction?

No one is speaking for the tens of millions of terrified Americans suffering mostly in silence over fears they will be shamed as uncompassionate or ignorant. It’s time for a real leader to emerge at the state level. Maybe DeSantis will be the one.

Considering its demographics and daily influx of tourists from around the world, Florida should be ground zero for the spread of COVID-19.

The Sunshine State is home to the highest percentage of senior citizens in the country, and that doesn’t include snowbirds from the Midwest and East Coast who seek temporary refuge during the winter months. Given what we know about the higher risk for people over age 65, hospitals in the state should be overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.

Further, as college campuses emptied out in early March and students headed to “Where the Boys Are,” these virus-carrying hedonists should have infected thousands of elderly Floridians. Florida also is a favorite destination for international tourists: Two of the top four U.S. cities visited each year by foreigners—Miami and Orlando—are in Florida. As the virus spread across the globe in the first two months of 2020, it undoubtedly made its way to the state unbeknownst to health officials.

But unlike New York City and a few other hotspots in the country, there is no evidence of a widespread, lethal outbreak of coronavirus in Florida. As of Monday morning, 90 percent of Floridians tested were negative for COVID-19. Only 217 people have been hospitalized and 14 total have died. (About eight people per day commit suicide in Florida according to 2017 statistics.)

The same tracker indicates that about 72 percent of those tested in New York state were negative, while 2,635 have been hospitalized and 114 have died.

There’s more good news for Florida: One-third of the state’s hospital beds remain available. During a press briefing over the weekend, Governor Ron DeSantis not only confirmed that 18,000 regular hospital beds are open but that 1,700 intensive care unit beds out of a total of 5,400 in the state are unused so far. DeSantis noted an increase in available beds over the past week, possibly due to the cancellation of elective surgeries, but those beds have not been filled with coronavirus patients.

Other information points to a nearly nonexistent threat of the Wuhan virus in Florida. According to the Centers for Disease Control, visits to health care providers by Floridians complaining of influenza-like symptoms, which mimic those for coronavirus, is “minimal.” The state’s surgeon general also confirmed that data during the governor’s weekend presser. A testing site in Jacksonville only attracted a few hundred people.

Yet even without an official shelter-in-place order, much of Florida is at a standstill. DeSantis, spurred by media pressure and government directives, continues to ratchet up efforts to curtail any spread of the virus during the height of the state’s lucrative tourist season.

On March 9, DeSantis declared a state of emergency. In response to President Trump’s 15-day directive to “flatten the curve,” prepared by the CDC, DeSantis shuttered most bars and set limits on the number of people gathered in restaurants and beaches. But after social media mobs shamed beachgoers and bar patrons in his state, DeSantis closed down most beaches as local governments followed suit. On Friday, the governor closed all restaurants and fitness gyms indefinitely.

Malls, resorts, and downtown areas are basically deserted. Highways usually packed with cars bearing license plates from northern states are lightly-traveled. Flatbed trucks filled with construction supplies, a common sight on the interstate, are nowhere to be seen. The luxury hotel adjacent to our condo in southwest Florida just closed until June 1. Tens of thousands of low-wage workers are out of a job without any indication of when, or if, they can return to work.

DeSantis, without a doubt, is in a tough spot. First, he’s a major target of Trump haters for his loyalty to the president when he was a member of Congress before barely defeating a Democratic rising star, Andrew Gillum, in November 2018. Second, any refusal to implement the CDC’s guidelines or cave to social media mobs looks like heartless disregard for grandma and grandpa. And third, DeSantis is widely considered to be a 2024 Republican presidential contender, so any action must be carefully calibrated to burnish his future prospects.

Local leaders continue to pressure DeSantis to announce a statewide shutdown. The Democratic mayor of Miami Beach just issued a stay-at-home order; his area counterparts are expected to do the same this week.

But as the national economy crashes and fear replaces reason among both the citizenry and political leaders at every level, someone needs to step up to challenge this unprecedented, destructive power play. (It’s vital to note that not one elected official was required to vote on the CDC guidelines now cited by federal and state officials as the law of the land.)

DeSantis could display real courage and leadership at a time when its in short supply. By March 30—the end of the so-called 15-day pause—if not sooner, DeSantis needs to publicly weigh the dire damage now inflicted on his state against the uncertain threat of coronavirus.

He’s already making important statements that his residents need to hear. Florida, DeSantis noted in an interview last week, enjoyed one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

“Our economy was humming, things were going along great, and now this external event, this virus, is going to dislocate a lot of people,” the governor said.

And it isn’t just economic havoc that the first-term governor fears: DeSantis has expressed his concerns about other implications of the crisis. “I really worry, as this drags out, the effect this is gonna have on mental health in the state and in the country because you’re looking at some major changes and upheavals that have happened in just a couple weeks,” the governor told reporters on Saturday.

He also has questioned the veracity of the sketchy science behind the draconian government cures for the disease, correctly observing that much of it is based on models and not hard data.

So, what could DeSantis do to counter the increasingly tyrannical responses enacted by his Democratic counterparts across the country? (Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Monday announced a 30-day shut down of his state’s economic and educational system, far exceeding recommendations by the CDC, even though the virus has resulted in just 32 hospitalizations and three deaths in the commonwealth.)

DeSantis could tout how predictions of doom have not materialized in his state despite an influx of likely infected people for at least the past several weeks. (One study concluded that ultraviolet light and humidity lowers infection rates.) Hospital beds are widely available and the state has a contingency plan to use sports stadiums and even hotels as backup triage centers should the situation deteriorate rapidly.

Data on the disease, DeSantis could explain, is unreliable and untested; viruses do not act the same in every locality and under every circumstance whereas the human toll from joblessness is very real. The most vulnerable populations—the elderly and the ill—and those who care for them will need to take special precautions such as hand-washing, masks, and other mitigation strategies.

If ongoing testing reveals a hotspot in the state, the government will move swiftly to contain it. Increased screenings for people traveling back to the state could be initiated at major hubs; routes from New York could be curtailed until the situation in that state improves.

But DeSantis has a chance to stand out among other leaders by putting his state back to work. There is no reason why he needs to follow along with CDC bureaucrats or left-wing Democrats or even the White House to sink his state’s future for nothing in exchange.

For now, he’s holding firm on his refusal to declare a shelter-in-place order.

“It would be a very blunt instrument,” he said Monday afternoon. “When you’re ordering people shelter-in-place, you are consigning . . . probably hundreds of thousands of Floridians go lose their jobs, you’re throwing their lives into potential disarray.”

There are more dire tradeoffs that DeSantis could condemn. Stripping the joy from people’s lives, provoking unnecessary panic, separating loved ones, further isolating lonely children and adults, and halting life’s celebratory moments have emotional costs that will never be fully measured. Those legitimate maladies are dismissed as we are told that major sacrifices are necessary to save even one life.

No one is speaking for the tens of millions of terrified Americans suffering mostly in silence over fears they will be shamed as uncompassionate, cruel or ignorant. It’s time for a real leader to emerge at the state level. Maybe DeSantis will be the one.