NR Webathon

Moving the Webathon Goalposts, Hopeful to Raise…

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A man wears a mask to prevent exposure to the coronavirus while walking past the New York Stock Exchange in New York City, March 17, 2020. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

When this campaign embarked on March 30th, we did not — and still do not — present an accurate figure as to our real need. Why? Well, it’s too big. And therefore, off-putting. Wishful thinking maybe? But be under no illusion: Our need’s hyper-obesity is very real. Planning this, we discussed how to proceed and chose to give our webathon a smallish goal, settling on $100,000 — believing even that number might prove to be absurd in its aspiration. In case you hadn’t heard, the economy has been emotional of late.

But what was proved was us being wrong — wrong to have not counted on the likelihood that many of our friends and supporters would rise to the occasion. They have. If you are part of they, many thanks. If you aren’t yet, think about becoming our comrade. We are about $8,000 short of our original goal. As this campaign has five days to go, we have called an audible and reconfigured: The goal now stands at $125,000. Again, one could add another zero to that if NR’s true needs were to be targeted. But let’s try for this objective now. It’s reached with contributions ranging from $5 to $5,000. Why would you give? Some of the 1,055 people who have joined us in the foxhole these last ten days have explained why — and we pray you’ll find their explanations influential.

  • Kevin spots us $50 and explains that ideology trumps biology: “The Left presents a more dangerous malady than any virus.” So true Special K. Thanks.
  • David drops the interesting amount of $203 on NR, and the backstory is quite cool and deferential to his mom: “So I got my first subscription when I went to college in 1977 courtesy of my mother. She passed recently and would be appalled at the years of leeching I have done for free. One of her favorite lines was ‘Son you must see Christ in everyone you meet.’ Your magazine has always helped me in that regard. So 1 from the $100 tranche, one from each of the $50 and $25 and I am taking the $28 as my own. $203 I believe? God bless you guys.” Looking at you Dave and guess what I’m seeing? God bless you pal. And Momma too, rest her sweet soul.
  • Big John, one of KVI’s all-stars, sends $100 and this: “Jack, you need 355 friends? Count me as one of them.” Love ya John, and give Kirby a hug.
  • A C-note also finds its way to us from Hamlin, who is making good on the years of friendship: “I’ve depended on NRO to gain real understanding for many years. Glad I am now in a position to give back a bit.” You think you’re glad? We’re overjoyed! Thanks.
  • Jerry too tosses Ben in the tip jar and offers those encouraging words we love to hear: “Keep up the good work! NR has been up to the task over the past month and has become my trusted news source. No hype, no distortions, no drama, maybe a slight bias but in my direction!” That’s what we’re aiming for friend. Gracias!
  • Jim finds a fifty and tenders it. And this: “National Review has been in my house for as long as I can remember; I started reading it at ten years old when Ford was president. Each new generation of writers has upheld and improved the standard; I know because I still have to reach for a dictionary once in a while. NR provides me with an education unrivaled — economics by Thomas Sowell back in the day, history by Victor Davis Hanson, humor by Rob Long, etc. Keep up the good work.” Keeping because of kindness like this.
  • Adorable Nancy, always there for us, sends $100, stapled to compliments: “More and more I find myself turning to NR for straight news in these crazy times. Jim Geraghty is a national treasure. Hoping the stock market will permit a more generous gift by the time of the next webathon.” You rock, dear friend. Thanks.
  • Eileen puts $200 in the collection plate and shares timely thoughts: “I think conservatives often feel isolated, but now when we are isolated in other ways, NR is more essential than ever. Thank you for being there for us!” You are proof that this works both ways, Eileen. Thanks.

Yesterday we sought a mix of 355 people to help us reach the original goal. So far over 200 signed up for active duty, and more are on the way . . . and we now ask that even more follow. We believe you will. Help us raise $125,000 — we’re but $33,000 away as of this moment — to get us to that goal. Donate here. And if you’d prefer to send a check, do make it payable to “National Review” and mail it to National Review, ATTN: Spring 2020 Webathon, 19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701, New York, NY 10036. Your patience, kindness, and friendship mean more than you will ever know.

U.S.

COVID-19 Projection Models Are Proving to Be Unreliable

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A patient is wheeled from the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center to an ambulance during the coronavirus outbreak in Brooklyn, N.Y., April 7, 2020. (Stefan Jeremiah/Reuters)

To describe as stunning the collapse of a key model the government has used to alarm the nation about the catastrophic threat of the coronavirus would not do this development justice.

In a space of just six days starting April 2, two revisions (on April 5 and 8) have utterly discredited the model produced by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. I wrote about the IHME’s modeling at National Review on Monday, the day after the first revision — which was dramatic, but pales in comparison to Wednesday’s reassessment. This was not immediately apparent because the latest revision (April 8) did not include a side-by-side comparison, as did the April 5 revision. Perusal of the new data, however, is staggering, as is what it says about government predictions we were hearing just days ago about the likelihood of 100,000 deaths, with as many as 240,000 a real possibility.

As I noted in my last post on this subject, by April 5, the projection of likely deaths had plunged 12 percent in just three days, 93,531 to 81,766. Understand, this projection is drawn from a range; on April 2, IHME was telling us cumulative COVID-19 deaths could reach as high as approximately 178,000. The upper range was also reduced on April 5 to about 136,000.

On April 8, the projected cumulative deaths were slashed to 60,145 (with the upper range again cut, to about 126,000). That is, in less than a week, the model proved to be off by more than 33 percent.

My use of the term “off” is intentional. There is no shortage of government spin, regurgitated by media commentators, assuring us that the drastic reductions in the projections over just a few days powerfully illustrate how well social distancing and the substantial shuttering of the economy is working. Nonsense. As Alex Berenson points out on Twitter, with an accompanying screenshot data updated by IHME on April 1, the original April 2 model explicitly “assum[ed] full social distancing through May 2020.”

The model on which the government is relying is simply unreliable. It is not that social distancing has changed the equation; it is that the equation’s fundamental assumptions are so dead wrong, they cannot remain reasonably stable for just 72 hours.

And mind you, when we observe that the government is relying on the models, we mean reliance for the purpose of making policy, including the policy of completely closing down American businesses and attempting to confine people to their homes because, it is said, no lesser measures will do. That seems worth stressing in light of this morning’s announcement that unemployment claims spiked another 6.6 million (now well over 16 million in just the past couple of weeks), to say nothing of the fact that, while the nation reels, the Senate has now chosen to go on recess, having failed, thanks to Democratic obstinacy, to enact legislation to give more relief to our fast-shrinking small-business sector.

As I detailed in the last post, the revised April 5 model was grossly wrong even in predicting conditions that would obtain on April 5 itself. It had predicted that on that day, New York, the epicenter of the crisis, would need about 24,000 hospital beds, including 6,000 ICU beds. In fact, the model was off by a third — New York had 16,479 hospitalized COVID patients, 4,376 that were in ICU.

On April 8, IHME reduced the total number of hospital beds it had predicted would be needed nationally by a remarkable 166,890 — down to 95,202 from the 262,092 it had predicted less than a week earlier (i.e., it was nearly two-thirds off). The ICU projection over that same week was cut in half: to 19,816 on April 8, down from 39,727 on April 2. The projected need for ventilators also fell by nearly half, to 16,845 from 31,782.

Because of the way the media report on skepticism about models and a desire to get reliable facts (which used to be the media’s job), I pause to stress that I am not belittling the threat of the virus, particularly to people who are especially vulnerable — the elderly and those with underlying health problems, especially respiratory problems. The question is one of balance. American lives are being shattered by the restrictions that have been put in place. The decision to do that was based on models. Those models have no credibility. They now tell us that about 61,000 may die of coronavirus this year — although, if the last few days are any indication, that number could be revised downward soon, perhaps substantially.

To compare, the CDC estimates that 61,000 people died from the flu in the extraordinarily bad 2017–2018 period. It has become fashionable to ridicule flu comparisons, but they are surely relevant, even if it is true that coronavirus is more readily transmissible and has a higher fatality rate. For this year, the CDC projects that flu deaths will range between 24,000 and 63,000, and that hospitalizations could surge as high as 730,000 (out of the 18 to 26 million people who are treated for flu, out of as many as 55 million Americans who experience flu-related illnesses). We don’t shut the country down for that.

The question of when government officials will reopen the country they have shut down for coronavirus presses, as does the question of whether some less-draconian measures than the ones in place could suffice. Hopefully, officials will have a better answer than, “Well, our models say …”

Religion

Twenty One Things that Caught My Eye Today (Holy Thursday, 2020)

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Some thinking out loud on heading toward Easter

1.Cardinal Dolan on The Today Show: This Coronavirus time “might be an invitation to rediscover the genuine mystery and message of what Passover and Easter are all about.”

2. Fr. Thomas Joseph White, O.P.: Epidemic Danger and Catholic Sacraments

3.

4. China’s first saint was martyred on a cross in Wuhan

5. Chad Pecknold: St. Augustine’s Journey to Easter

6. Cranston East seniors use prom money to donate food to assisted living center

Continue reading “Twenty One Things that Caught My Eye Today (Holy Thursday, 2020)”

World

More Warning Signs in Sweden

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In response to It’s Too Early to Declare Sweden a Success Story

From Paulina Neudling and Tino Sanandaji:

There are now alarming reports that the virus has spread to one-third of nursing homes in Stockholm, which has resulted in rising fatalities. While it is true that Swedes rarely live with their parents, older citizens are hardly isolated: The Scandinavian model simply outsources care from families to caretakers who visit dozens of clients every week. Caretakers are rarely tested for the virus but have simply been urged to stay at home if and shortly after experiencing symptoms.

Nor is there much indication that the Swedish economy is weathering the storm better than comparable countries. The drop in the stock market and the rise in unemployment are roughly in line with other advanced economies. According to official Swedish estimates, Sweden’s GDP is expected to contract by 3.4 percent this year, which is better than the 5.5 percent decline projected in a euro zone dragged down by Italy and Spain, but worse than the 2.9 percent decline prognosticated for the United States. If these prognoses are accurate, the Swedish experiment might indicate that the economic effects of the pandemic cannot be escaped by a laissez-faire approach, but that the crash is mainly driven by declining global demand, disruption in production chains, and a collective fear and loss of confidence among billions across the globe.

Another lesson in policy evaluation is that we should avoid jumping to conclusions based on “just-so” narratives before taking the time lag into account.

Law & the Courts

The Pell Acquittal

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Gerard Bradley:

The High Court judged that no rational jury could have convicted Cardinal Pell on any of the charges. The evidence at trial, the judges ruled, left behind an incorrigible “reasonable doubt.” These judges’ task did not require them to say more than that. But the unbiased reader of their judgment (as well as Weinberg’s encyclopedic, masterful opinion) would easily draw the inference: Nothing happened. A’s whole story, with respect to both alleged incidents, was “fanciful.”

The High Court listed the legal mistakes responsible for the miscarriage. One was that the lower court judges (and, evidently, the jurors, too) effectively applied a double standard to the two sides . . . .

Culture

Mort Drucker, R.I.P.

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Mort Drucker has died, age 94, after many years of drawing covers and other art for Mad Magazine — and once for National Review. We were running one of our articles on the dire state of higher education, an evergreen topic, and Charles Bork, our art director then, wanted to do a cover with Alfred E. Newman in a mortarboard. He called Mad to ask for permission, and Drucker volunteered to do the cover himself. Thanks again — and R.I.P.

World

New Study: The Human Version of SARS-CoV-2 Is Closer to the One in Bats than the One in Pangolins

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This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round blue objects), also known as novel coronavirus, emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab which was isolated from a U.S. patient. (NIAID-RML/Reuters)

Earlier this week, the Morning Jolt newsletter examined a study that contended the virus SARS-CoV-2 has certain features indicating it evolved through a considerable period of natural selection, and those traits are just too similar to coronaviruses from pangolins for the virus to have jumped straight from bats to humans, a scenario that made the researchers conclude that an accidental release from a laboratory was unlikely.

But scientists are always learning more. And Matt Ridley, a science journalist and author in the United Kingdom, offers significant news in the Wall Street Journal today:

RaTG13 is the name, rank and serial number of an individual horseshoe bat of the species Rhinolophus affinis, or rather of a sample of its feces collected in 2013 in a cave in Yunnan, China. The sample was collected by hazmat-clad scientists from the Institute of Virology in Wuhan that year. Stored away and forgotten until January this year, the sample from the horseshoe bat contains the virus that causes Covid-19

The role of pangolins in the spread of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, remains unclear. A closer look at more of the Sars-CoV-2 genome, published last week by Maciej Boni at Penn State University and David Robertson at Glasgow University, together with Chinese and European colleagues, finds that human versions of the virus are more closely related to the RaTG13 horseshoe bat sample from the cave than they are to the known pangolin versions. It is not yet possible to tell whether the virus went from bat to pangolin to people, or from bat to pangolin and bat to people in parallel.

Significantly, the same analysis shows that the most recent common ancestor of the human virus and the RaTG13 virus lived at least 40 years ago. So it is unlikely that the cave in Yunnan (a thousand miles from Wuhan) is where the first infection happened or that the culprit bat was taken from that cave to Wuhan to be eaten or experimented on.

Rather, it is probable that somewhere much closer to Wuhan, there is another colony of bats carrying the same kind of virus. Unless other evidence emerges, it thus looks like a horrible coincidence that China’s Institute of Virology, a high-security laboratory where human cells were being experimentally infected with bat viruses, happens to be in Wuhan, the origin of today’s pandemic.

Bats are sold in markets and supplied directly to restaurants throughout China and southeast Asia, but no direct evidence of their sale in Wuhan’s wet market has come to light. Also, horseshoe bats, which are much smaller than the tastier fruit bats, are generally not among the species eaten. The significance of the Yunnan cave sample is that it shows the bat virus didn’t need to recombine with viruses in other species in a market to be infectious to people. The role of the wet markets may be that other animals get infected there and produce much higher loads of virus than the bats would, amplifying the infection.

The accidental-release scenario cannot yet be proven — and it may forever be impossible to prove — but it seems to be dismissed a little too quickly in some circles, at least for my tastes. The accidental-release scenario would require one of the several hundred bats being used for research on coronaviruses in either the Wuhan Institute of Virology or Wuhan Center for Disease Control to have developed SARS-CoV-2 and for it to have accidentally infected someone at the lab through blood, urine, or feces, and then for that lab employee to have unknowingly passed it to others. Alternatively, some biological material containing the virus could have been improperly disposed of, leading to an accidental infection of someone outside the lab.

Lab accidents happen, even in the very best laboratories, as discussed in the newsletter this week. Terrifying examples abound. Russia’s State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology — one of the two centers in the world housing samples of live smallpox virus — suffered an explosion in September 2019. In 2016, a lab worker at the University of Pittsburgh became infected with Zika virus after accidentally sticking herself with a needle. In 1979, a Soviet bioweapons lab in Sverdlovsk accidentally released a puff of anthrax spores into the sky, killing about sixty-four people. The Soviet government blamed bad meat; the KGB confiscated all of the hospital records. In 2007, the CDC shut down all research on dangerous pathogens at Texas A&M University after two accidents went unreported for too long: “The first exposure at TAMU occurred in February 2006, when a lab worker cleaning a chamber containing brucella bacteria in a biosafety level-3 lab developed brucellosis; she recovered after treatment with antibiotics. One month later, three other workers tested positive for antibodies to Coxiella burnetii, the bacterium that causes Q fever, but didn’t become sick.” In the United Kingdom, the Health and Safety Executive “held formal investigations into more than 40 mishaps at specialist laboratories between June 2015 and July 2017, amounting to one every two to three weeks.”

Just this week, a courier carrying coronavirus samples to a lab for testing was involved in a car crash on Interstate 195 in Massachusetts.

I do not understand why so many people insist that an accident at either Wuhan Institute of Virology or Wuhan Center for Disease Control is so unthinkable.

World

All Apologies

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Medical workers put on protective suits at a preparation room next to the isolation wards at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan in Hubei Province, China, February 24, 2020. (China Daily via Reuters)

The respected scientific journal Nature has published an apology for associating COVID-19 with China, explaining it “was an error on our part” to erroneously link the pathogen with Wuhan and China.”

Nature’s rationale is that since mid-February, the virus has an official name — “COVID-19” — and that Asian people have faced racist attacks in the wake of the virus.

More speculatively, Nature’s apology says that a virus name that generates stigma could hurt “the diversity of university campuses and diversity of points of view in academia.”

Of course one expects that there will be fewer international students at Western universities, but the primary cause of this will be fear of the disease itself and the travel bans that impose uncertainty on the endeavor of international study. Campuses tend to be incredibly supportive environments for students.

If I might speculate for a minute, I think we’re going to see a great number of these apologies. Initially, no one thought calling it the “Chinese coronavirus” or the “Wuhan flu” was offensive or bigoted. Names like this were used in China or in Asian polities like Hong Kong and Taiwan where ethnic Han Chinese predominate. But the Chinese mainland government and its co-conspirator, the World Health Organization, have pushed this narrative about “stigma” being worse than the disease itself relentlessly. I’ve mostly given up calling it the Wuhan virus, only because calling it COVID-19 or just “COVID” is what’s common among friends who are in the medical profession. But I think apologies are inappropriate. So long as honest historians of this era exist, the virus will always be “associated” with Wuhan and China.

Most worryingly, elites in the West converge on high-status opinions because they want a high-status life. This makes our elites relatively easy for a bloody-minded Chinese Communist Party to manipulate. I’d rather our institutions not volunteer for these struggle sessions.

Law & the Courts

It’s Official: Every Aspect of Crossfire Hurricane Was Shady

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(Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

At the height of the Russia-collusion hysteria, anyone who theorized that Crossfire Hurricane had been sparked by the Steele dossier — a document paid for by the political party running against target of the investigation — would be rigorously fact-checked.

Mainstream reporters covering the story would authoritatively inform their audience that it was evidence gleaned from a conversation with then-20-something former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos that had triggered the investigation. They knew, of course, that if the FBI had relied principally on the dossier, the investigation would look transparently and problematically partisan. The Papadopoulos conversations, on the other hand, sounded pretty damning, even though journalists didn’t know exactly what they entailed.

Well, DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz recently told the Senate that those FISA warrants used to spy on the Trump campaign were “entirely” predicated on information from that dossier. And we now know that virtually every one of those applications to spy on American citizens was rife with errors, misleading information, and “fraudulent” evidence. You know, just some endemic, comprehensive, and highly targeted “sloppiness.”

We now learn from a new CBS News report that the Papadopoulos evidence was also misrepresented in applications. Two weeks before Election Day, in the midst of a contentious presidential campaign, the Obama administration’s DOJ filled out surveillance warrant applications without including contradicting evidence — and then left out that evidence again on three subsequent renewals. Just another mishap.

Papadopoulos, you’ll remember, supposedly linked the Trump administration to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s email system. As it turns out, Papadopoulos explicitly denied to an FBI source that the campaign was involved in the hack, and goes out of his way to call the idea “illegal.”

According to CBS:

CHS: You don’t think anyone from the Trump campaign had anything to do with the f***ing over the, at the DNC?

Papadopoulos: No

CHS: Really?

Papadopoulos: No. I know that for a fact.

CHS: How do you know that for a fact?

Papadopoulos: ‘Cause I go, I’ve been working with them for the last nine months. That’s (unintelligible) And all of this stuff has been happening, what, the last four months?

The FBI source then pressed Papadopoulos on whether someone on the Trump campaign might have been secretly involved.

CHS: But you don’t think anyone would have done it, like under, undercover or anything like that?

Papadopoulos: No, I don’t think so. . . .There’s absolutely no reason. . . . First of all, it’s illegal, you know, to do that s***.

The FBI supposedly believed that Papadopoulos’s reaction was a “rehearsed response.” So the drunken brag about the hack was enough evidence to spy on the American citizen in the midst of a presidential campaign, but the potential contradicting evidence sounded too mechanical to mention in a warrant application?

This explanation would be a lot easier to believe if every other aspect of the Russia-collusion investigation — which, despite three years of non-stop media coverage and an open-ended independent government inquiry, produced not a single indictment for criminal conspiracy connecting anyone in the Trump administration with Russia — didn’t reek of corruption.

Politics & Policy

The Small-Business Loan Extension: Another Excuse to Increase Spending?

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Empty restaurant tables sit on a plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue in during the coronavirus outbreak in downtown Washington, March 31, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

While our country is in the middle of a pandemic, with a quarantine, deaths, and an economic nightmare, politicians are using the crisis to promote big-government schemes.

Case in point: Democrats have opposed an expansion of spending for the Paycheck Protection Program that was part of the CARES Act because it didn’t include their demands for more spending on issues unrelated to small-business loans.

It is worth reviewing their demands to understand how committed they are to using any opportunity they have to spend more money and expand the footprint of the government. They wanted to increase the funds available for lending to small businesses, but demanded that $125 billion of the $250 billion PPP money go to “community-based financial institutions that serve farmers, family, women, minority and veteran-owned small businesses and nonprofits in rural, tribal, suburban and urban communities across our country.” This requirement will make a program that is already having a hard time processing applications, and fulfilling requests by small business owners, even more unworkable.

Democrats also demanded an additional $100 billion “to provide grants to hospitals, public entities, not for profit entities, and Medicare and Medicaid enrolled suppliers and institutional providers to cover unreimbursed health care related expenses or lost revenues attributable to the public health emergency resulting from the coronavirus.” That’s on top of the $150 billion for health-care spending in the last bill. And then they wanted an additional $150 billion for tribal communities and state and local governments. That’s on top of the previous $150 billion in direct aid to states in the last bill. Finally, they wanted to include a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits.

Keep those demands in mind, because they aren’t going away.

We have no idea how much money will really be needed. And the CARES Act was only passed two weeks ago. Can we wait a little to assess the situation? I guess not.

This criticism, by the way, also goes to the Republicans rushing this PPP extension through. By all accounts, the program suffers from major design flaws. They should fix that before they throw any more money (which I am sure will be needed, considering the large number of small businesses affected by this crisis) at the problem.

World

The Eurozone’s Dutch Treat

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A cyclist crosses an empty square in central Maastricht after Dutch schools, cafes, restaurants, and sport clubs were told to close down as the Netherlands imposed tight restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Maastricht, Netherlands, March 16, 2020. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

With no progress (however that might be defined) so far on resolving the extent to which the Eurozone as a whole (as opposed to just the ECB, the European Central Bank) will step in to help out those of its member-states most battered by COVID-19, Germany appears to be hiding behind The Netherlands:

From the Irish Times (in a report highly unsympathetic to the Dutch view):

It took 16 hours of video conferencing for the finance ministers of the euro zone to find out that once again, they could not agree….

What’s (mainly) at issue is the Dutch are continuing to object to the idea of jointly-issued ‘Coronabonds’ backed by the Eurozone as a whole.

The Irish Times correspondent suggests that the Dutch will yield (I’d agree, one way or another), but:

The great fear is that by then it will be too late to turn back a tide of disgust in Italy towards the entire EU project.

The Italian economy has hardly grown since it joined the euro in 1999. You can take your pick of domestic problems to blame: onerous laws that people ignore, a musical-chairs succession of weak governments, an aging population.

But the fact is that the country has not seen the benefits of the euro. It has people old enough to vote who have known only economic stagnation.

The uncomfortable reality is that this was always going to be the case. Italy essentially cheated its way into the nascent currency union, with the assistance, critically, of German Chancellor Kohl.  Its domestic problems were real enough but the idea that the country could be scared straight by replacing the accommodating lira with a euro that it could not devalue was always nonsense (as, indeed, was the idea that the euro was going to do much good for most of its other members, but that’s a debate for another time).

Ashoka Mody writes in The Spectator (my emphasis added):

The ECB could keep buying the Italian government’s debt to prevent a default. But it is not the task of a central bank to deal with insolvencies. Moreover, such an effort would be technically and politically fraught for the ECB, which is not a normal central bank. The ECB is the central banker to a confederation of nations, each of which maintains fiscal sovereignty. If Italy is pushed to the brink, the ECB will struggle to help. The current ECB bond-buying limit of a trillion euros is designated to purchase the bonds of all member states. Italian government debt is over two trillion euros, which will increase further if the government is forced to financially prop up the country’s banks. If Italy is bailed out, other member states on the ECB’s Governing Council will face buying so much Italian debt that the ECB would own Italy. If then, the Italian government is unable to service its debt to the ECB, other member states will face the charged task of using their tax revenues to replenish the ECB’s capital.

Alternatively, leaving Italy to fend for herself could cause widespread Italian defaults, triggering defaults by those who have lent to the Italian government and banks. A cascade of defaults would go up the chain to European and global pension and insurance funds, inducing a global financial panic.

Germany appears to be content to shelter behind the Dutch for now, but (in another article largely unsympathetic to the Eurozone’s ‘frugal four’ — Germany, The Netherlands, Finland and Austria) Matthew Karnitschnig and Hans von der Burchard, writing in Politico, noted a poll from late-March in which 65 percent of Germans were opposed to a Coronabond issue, and:

There’s broad consensus from Vienna to Berlin to Helsinki that corona bonds are a no-go. The northerners worry (with some justification) that once the taboo is broken, eurobonds would be here to stay.

“With some justification” is an understatement.

So how about the ESM?

The measures currently under discussion in Brussels for the entire eurozone — a combination of credit lines from the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund, unemployment assistance and reduced-rate corporate loans — equal less than half of what Germany has prescribed for itself. The reason the deal on the table is so attractive to Berlin is simple: it costs Germany relatively little (if no one defaults). The ESM, for example, could rely on its existing lending capacity to extend whatever credit countries apply for.

But:

[T]he sums currently under discussion are unlikely to be anywhere near enough.

Italy alone will need financial assistance in the scale of €200-€250 billion to stay afloat, said Gabriel Felbermayr, president of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. But the ESM loans under discussion in Brussels would only total €200 billion for all eurozone countries combined.

In order for the fund to lend more, German and the other euro members would likely have to increase the fund’s capital base, triggering another contentious debate in Berlin. But waiting to do so until Italy and Spain’s economic position deteriorates further is bound to increase the cost of rescuing them and could even make doing so impossible. In contrast to Greece, one of Europe’s smallest economies, Italy and Spain are the bloc’s third- and fourth-largest respectively.

Rock, meet hard place. My guess continues to be that the ‘frugal four’ will eventually cave, but will do everything they can to confine rescue efforts to the ESM. If that fails, their political class will finally have to choose between admitting to their voters the obvious and inconvenient truth that the euro has been a disaster — or, alternatively, let them down yet again.

Precedent suggests that they will choose the latter.

Science & Tech

How Worried Should We Be about Reinfection or Reactivation of the Virus?

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A medical worker in a protective suit arrives at the Policlinico Tor Vergata hospital, where patients suffering from the COVID-19 coronavirus are being treated in Rome, Italy, April 6, 2020. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)

At a time like this, people understandably dislike pessimists. But that doesn’t mean that those who bring bad news are wrong. New reports from South Korea, indicating that the country has 74 patients who retested positive after appearing to beat the virus, indicate that building up “herd immunity” might be a longer and more difficult process than we thought: “‘The ratio of patients retesting positive is very small even if we were to see more cases. . . .It is important to examine the virus and check for infectivity in these cases,’ said Kwon Joon-wook, deputy director of the KCDC, in a daily virus status briefing earlier in the week.”

Are these just cases where someone falsely tests negative — perhaps more than once? — and a subsequent test shows an accurate positive result? The Korean CDC is characterizing these cases as “reactiviation” of the virus, not re-infection. The body fights off the virus for a while, at a sufficient level to make the virus seem dormant, and then the immune system stops fighting it as effectively, causing a second flare-up.

The good news is that, at least for now, U.S. health experts don’t think we will many people dying from a second bout with the coronavirus. Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this week, “Generally we know with infections like this, that at least for a reasonable period of time, you’re gonna have antibodies that are going to be protective. . . .If we get infected in February and March and recover, next September, October, that person who’s infected — I believe — is going to be protected.”

But there’s a related issue revealed in these South Korean briefings. Some patients who are dealing with other health conditions will be able to win a tough fight with the SARS-CoV-2 virus . . . but it will leave them in a weakened condition, where they may ultimately succumb to those other conditions.

Local epicenter North Gyeongsang Province reported the death of an 85-year-old woman who died at a nursing home Wednesday, nine days after she was declared virus-free, the provincial government said.

Her death is thought to have resulted from the effects of the virus coupled with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, it added. The virus had not recurred.

KCDC Director General Jeong Eun-kyeong took a cautious approach to drawing a correlation between the woman’s bout with COVID-19 and her subsequent death.

“It is not the most precise to say the (elderly lady) passed away after a recovery. . . . We will receive her records or death certificate and examine the cause of her death through the central clinical committee,” Jeong said.

We still have a long road ahead until we’re out of the woods. That’s not pessimism, that’s just realism.

Culture

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sitcom Antagonist

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Steve Carell and Noah Emmerich in ‘Space Force’ (Netflix)

I watched the first few episodes of Netflix’s highly anticipated new sitcom Space Force, starring Steve Carell as a harried and hapless four-star Air Force general tasked with becoming the first chief of staff for the new Space Force as it ramps up operations in Colorado with an eye toward putting “boots on the moon” in five years. The show hits Netflix on May 29, and it’s really funny. I plan to review it later, but this is just a note about its political setup.

The unseen president who ultimately commands the program is meant to make us think of Donald Trump, given the way POTUS communicates, but Trump goes unmentioned. Occasionally there is a swipe at right-wing politics, such as a joke about assault rifles in space, but for the most part the show doesn’t grind any axes. It’s a workplace comedy with a stellar cast that includes John Malkovich, Jane Lynch, and Lisa Kudrow. Co-created by Carell and Greg Daniels, who previously collaborated on The Office, it makes the most of Carell’s knack for playing a beleaguered Everyman. His character is kind of awful and kind of lovable at the same time.

Amusing side note: There is a New York congresswoman on the show, complete with long, hyphenated surname, who is an obvious ringer for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and she’s one of the many sources of irritation for Carell’s General Naird. She is constantly questioning the Space Force program and its spending, which she thinks would be more wisely spent on food stamps for her constituents. In one early episode, she grills him sarcastically at a congressional budget hearing, but he unexpectedly turns the tables on her. It’s beautiful to watch and kind of surprisingly patriotic too.

Elections

Bye-Bye, Bernie

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Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks with supporters at a campaign rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Ariz., March 5, 2020. (Gage Skidmore/Reuters)

What did we learn from the primary campaign of Bernie Sanders, the socialist from Vermont from Brooklyn who once again made a strong but unsuccessful run at the Democratic nomination?

(1) The union-hall Left is without a representative for its traditional immigration restrictionism. (Or, at least, without a representative in the Democratic Party.) Sanders was for years a forthright immigration restrictionist, well to the restrictionist side of many conservatives of the Wall Street Journal. Throughout the 2016 campaign, he went to union halls and gave speeches denouncing “open borders,” which he characterized as a “Koch-brothers proposal” to flood the United States with cheap immigrant labor and thereby undercut the position of the U.S. working class. “It does not make a lot of sense to me to bring hundreds of thousands of those workers into this country to work for minimum wage and compete with Americans kids,” he said. His talk on immigration might as well have come from the mouth of Donald Trump. Trump noticed this — and so did the identity-politics Left, which began a campaign to bully him into changing his views. Soon, Sanders was — in the inevitable expression—evolving on the issue. One of the great challenges of being a demagogue is staying one step ahead of the demos.

(2) The demographic shift in the Democratic Party is not necessarily a shift to the left. The Democrats are a party in which the power is held by a caste of relatively well-off white people (the little old liberal white ladies) but the numbers and the votes increasingly come from a party base that is less affluent and less white. Sanders’s movement is dominated by champagne socialists: well-off, college-educated white people who resented having to pay back their Cornell student loans. Black voters, on the other hand, strongly preferred Joe Biden, a more moderate Democratic hack of the familiar kind. Senator Sanders and the former vice president have more in common than it might seem: Neither of them is a native speaker of the language of “social justice” and intersectionality, and their attempts to incorporate yesterday’s voguish enthusiasm into their rhetoric have been pretty weak; even with his 1970s Vermont-stoner radical posturing, Senator Sanders, with his focus on labor and social programs, is closer to a New Deal liberal than is, say, Julián Castro. But if you really want an old-fashioned Democrat, why not vote for an actual old-fashioned Democrat? And that is what Joe Biden is. African Americans were not brought into the Democratic Party by Barack Obama—they were brought into the Democratic Party by Franklin Roosevelt. And though they are by no means politically homogeneous, their politics have been, broadly speaking, a New Deal politics. The boutique radicalism of well-off Millennial college graduates raised in the suburbs of wherever may not be the future of the Democratic Party.

(3) Senator Sanders is an echo of Trump in that he has shown that party establishments do not matter very much when it comes to fund-raising or message-broadcasting — he is not even a member of the party whose nomination he sought. But while the Republican Party is more heavily a party of ideology and tribal cohesion, the more coalitional nature of the Democratic Party requires more management and more machinery. (The GOP is a party of identity politics for one group of people; the Democratic Party is a party that coordinates the identity politics of a series of groups of people.) So the parallels are not exact. But while Senator Sanders does not have President Trump’s talent for spectacle, the near-success of his campaign shows that the Democratic Party is far from immune from the sort of outside-inside hostile takeover the Republican Party experienced in 2016. But it seems unlikely that a finally successful populist movement within the Democratic Party is going to look like what the idiot children of the Sanders movement were hoping for. The affluent and educated Sanders element is culturally adjacent to the Clintonite Davos Democrats and their program of elite technocracy; Senator Sanders himself represents the whitest state in the Union, is married to a college administrator, attended an elite university, etc. A populist movement with its origins in the actual communities Senator Sanders purports to speak for would be a different thing entirely.

Coronavirus Update

Coronavirus Update: Cases Slowing as Economic News Worsens

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A medical staff member rests leaning against a wall in an intensive care unit, where patients suffering from the coronavirus are treated, at the Santa Maria hospital in Lisbon, Portugal. April 9, 2020. = (Rafael Marchante/Reuters)

More than 430,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the U.S., with the death toll nearing 15,000. However, the growth rate in new cases continues to decline across states, and the CDC found that 90 percent of hospitalized patients had at least one preexisting condition.

As the medical news improves, the economic news grows more dire. 6.6 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total over the past three weeks to approximately 16 million. The Federal Reserve expanded lending programs to small business and municipalities this morning to combat the economic fallout.

Graph: Daniel Tenreiro
Data: COVID Tracking Project

Declining growth rates in new cases indicate that we’ve avoided the worst-case outcomes in the U.S. The table below shows the average daily growth rate in new cases over the past five days and the change in that growth rate from five days prior. The negative percentages in the right-hand column reflect decreases in the growth rate across all the hardest-hit states.

Table: Daniel Tenreiro
Data: COVID Tracking Project

Testing increased slightly yesterday, but is still below the high of 180,000. By some estimates, the U.S. will need to administer 2 million tests a day to roll back social-distancing measures. We’ll be watching testing data closely this week to see how quickly the U.S. can move to the “test-and-trace” strategy used by South Korea.

Graph: Daniel Tenreiro
Data: COVID Tracking Project

Across states, testing disparities persist, with Michigan and California dramatically lagging other states with large outbreaks.

Graph: Daniel Tenreiro
Data: COVID Tracking Project
Health Care

Do Ventilators Help?

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During this COVID-19 crisis, the rate of ventilator usage increase has gone down and remains well below projections. A few days ago, Governor Cuomo passed a special order allowing the state to seize ventilators from upstate hospitals to bring them to the hotspots in the city. The next day, he said he no longer needed additional ventilators. This was strange from a man who seemed to be moving heaven and earth to get them anywhere he could, whether from China, or Elon Musk, or from a Ford Motor Company retooled by the Defense Production Act.

There seems to be a new reluctance against treating COVID-19 patients with ventilators. Part of it is that the process of intubation itself is traumatic for patients and requires major recovery time all on its own. It’s also dangerous for the doctors themselves. But part of it may be a counter-consensus about what the virus actually does. Instead of being a pneumonia that attacks the lungs, there are some doctors theorizing that the damage COVID-19 does is to the hemoglobin in the blood, at once disabling the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to other organs, and releasing iron into the body; the oxidizing effect of this may cause those “ground glass” lung pictures seen in CT scans of patients.

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