Media

Hold These Truths with Dan Crenshaw

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The congressman had me on his podcast today to discuss Trump-era political media, the evolution of journalism, Tiger King, and other pressing issues. You can listen here.

U.S.

Better Brace Yourself. Things Will Get Worse Before They Get Better.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during the coronavirus task force daily briefing in Washington, March 25, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A grim sign of the times: “Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top medical expert on the coronavirus pandemic and a member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, is facing threats to his personal safety and now requires personal security from law enforcement at all times, including at his home, a source confirms to CNN.”

Those wondering who could possibly want to harm Dr. Fauci at a time like this must have missed the maniac who crashed a train yesterday because he had some nutty conspiracy about the U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy. We have no shortage of nut-jobs and conspiracy theorists in this country, and they tend to fixate on people who are on television a lot.

A dispiriting number of people believe that those in authority are choosing to communicate bad news. It appears to be beyond their comprehension that the news actually could be that bad. When the reality is as grim as the current situation, communicating the situation clearly is not pessimism, it is realism. Sure, someone could discover the cure for coronavirus later today. But the world cannot operate as if that sudden miraculous solution will imminently appear.

Maybe we’re at the point where we need to ask people to sit down before they read the news. The news is bad. Very, very, bad. It is probably going to get worse before it gets better.

Yesterday 1,049 Americans died from the coronavirus, and we’re probably going to have about the same amount today. We’re hoping it will be a little lower, but it may be a little higher. It could well be significantly higher; 912 Americans died Tuesday and 558 died Americans Monday.

We have now just about depleted the national stockpile of personal protective equipment. Some of the ventilators in the national stockpile don’t work anymore. New York City has already set up 45 new mobile morgues, because the funeral homes are full.

This morning, we learned 6.6 million people filed for unemployment insurance last week, twice as many as the week before, which was more than four times the previous record.

As laid out in the Morning Jolt today, the situation in most countries overseas is going to be much, much worse. If you think our society is having a hard time mitigating this threat, picture the slums and poorer neighborhoods in Calcutta, Mexico City, Lagos, Jakarta, or Rio de Janeiro.

This doesn’t mean the world is ending. But it does mean we’re headed for a once-in-a-century challenge. That’s not Anthony Fauci’s fault, or the fault of anyone else telling you something you don’t want to hear.

U.S.

‘Last Night We Had a Bizarre Conversation over Dinner’

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A nurse in New York City, March 27, 2020 (Carlo Allegri / Reuters)

Yesterday, I had an Impromptus column, with a typical variety of items. The first had to do with the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, whose captain pleaded for help to save his crew: not from an enemy navy or from stormy seas, but from the coronavirus.

I quoted a report from the New York Times, which said, “A senior Navy official on Sunday sought to play down the urgency of the situation on the Roosevelt . . .” My comment:

You will know what I mean when I say, I am all for measured tones and cool heads. I have been alarmed at alarmism, so to speak, my entire life. But there is a time for downplaying and a time for “up-playing,” if you will. In my judgment, this is no time for downplaying. Lives are at risk, and, in some parts of the world, they are piling up bodies like cordwood.

I received a letter from a reader, Leonard Van Maanen, from my home state of Michigan. It is one of the rawest things I have read in recent weeks, which is saying something. I am going to publish it — with Mr. Van Maanen’s permission — just the way it came in to me, with no editing whatsoever.

His letter left me with, among other things, a humble awe at what some people are willing to do for others.

Dear Mr. Nordlinger, greetings from Michigan.

I am a retired health care worker. Thirteen years working in a Detroit area ER, and sixteen years working in the organ donation/transplantation field. My wife [who I met at work!] is a thirty-five year nursing veteran. She currently works in SE MI’s Covid19 hot spot in Oakland County. As of today, they are seeing 20 deaths per day due to the pandemic, and that number will climb, horrendously. And now her co-workers and friends are dying.

Last night we had a bizarre conversation over dinner, as she prepared to go back in to work. We actually made arrangements concerning our dog and cat if and when she brought the Covid19 home, and the high likelihood of my death, and possibly hers, too. Those kids out there who call this pandemic the “Boomer Remover” can have a laugh at my expense, then, I won’t mind.

It is “nice” that health care workers nationwide are being shown many words and actions of support…they deserve them. But…they have always been there!

We were there for a Hepatitis B breakout. An easily communicable, deadly disease. And West Nile, H1N1, Bird Flu, and HIV/AIDS. There for the daily assaults, the drunks, psychos, fakers, wife-beaters, child abusers, horrific traumas and heart attacks.

We were there for the complaints about wait times and triage priorities. “Why did that guy get seen before me? I was here first!” “Well, he was dead, and you were constipated!”

A nurse in my ER was there when the ambulance brought in a horribly, fatally injured, unidentified, unrecognizable, young teenage girl, only to find out that we were working on, and losing, her daughter.

I have had patients file false complaints of “rudeness” and even sexual impropriety to “pay me back.” In the early days of HIV, I had a semi-drunk patient, [who faked a suicide attempt in order to get attention from his soon-to-be ex-wife] spit in my eyes, and then giggle while he said “I just got tested for AIDS.” In those days, we could not test the patient without their consent, so it was me who had to be tested for the next six months, basically putting my life on hold for half a year.

I can tell you, nobody but my co-workers appreciated me then.

I am a US Army veteran, and a retired paramedic. I can tell you this. Health care workers deal with unimaginable stress and medical horrors on a daily basis in “good times.” And now add to this the pandemic. And still, they are there. And they deal with the blood and battle on a daily basis for their entire career, day after day. Imagine being in a real war for decades at a time. PTSD? It’s as common as a morning coffee!

It is no wonder to me that health care has higher divorce, suicide, substance abuse rates across the board.

But, looking back on the past, and now wishing I could help, but being too old and medically unsuitable to do so, I have never been more proud of my wife, my peers and friends with whom I had the privilege to work. We loved each other, supported each other [with no help from our owners and administrators] and dealt with the daily hell with courage, skill, humanity and humor.

So, if and when we get a handle on the current pandemic crisis, and when the death toll at large, and amongst health care workers is finally tallied, and things “get back to normal,” I only hope that the current respect for those that go into harm’s way won’t dry up and blow away.

Each of us has, over the course of years spent in this field, memories, good, bad and horrific. One stands out for me. The night of a trailer fire. We got all four patients in via ambulance in less than ten minutes. An adult, followed by three babies, the oldest five years of age. I remember carrying them one at a time, wrapped in white plastic, to the morgue. We were all taking it hard. I had to go to our closet/break room to hang my head and cry a little bit, when our ER doctor put her arm around my shoulder and whispered “at least these kids had someone to make an effort to save them. We were here.” They still are. But now they’re dying. And still they serve.

Thanks for listening, God Bless you and keep you and yours safe in this perilous time,

Len Van Maanen

White House

Rewriting History

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I appreciated David Harsanyi’s article on Joe Scarborough, but I think it’s worth noting that Scarborough isn’t the only one trying to rewrite history. Wednesday on CNN, Vice President Pence said: “I don’t believe the president has ever belittled the threat of the coronavirus.” Revisionism abounds.

Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Hawley Urges Small Business Administration to Treat Religious Nonprofits Equally in Coronavirus Aid

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Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) departs from a briefing on the coronavirus outbreak in China in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Yesterday evening, Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) sent a letter to the Small Business Administration (SBA), urging its officials to adopt appropriate standards for nonprofit religious organizations when administering the loan program created by the coronavirus-relief legislation.

The letter, a copy of which was provided exclusively to National Review, concerns the Paycheck Protection Program, an emergency lending program created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to provide small-business loans during this time of economic uncertainty.

Hawley notes that the program, as established by Congress, requires lenders to consider only the size of an organization when disbursing loans, as opposed to other loan programs administered by the SBA that explicitly exclude religious organizations. But the central point of the letter is to urge the SBA to consider the distinct nature of religious nonprofits when determining what loans they can receive during this crisis.

“The Paycheck Protection Program applies to ‘small’ organizations—by default, those with 500 or fewer employees,” Hawley writes. “But the definition of ‘small’ is not the same in every industry, so the program encourages the SBA to continue adopting regulations that alter that size standard for specific industries.”

In other words, the 500-employee standard is a one-size-fits-all default that doesn’t take into account the unique needs of specific sectors of the small-business economy. Hawley points out that the SBA has already chosen to alter the size standard applied to tire manufacturers under the loan program, considering those with up to 1,500 employees small businesses.

“The SBA should adopt a higher size standard for religious organizations to recognize the distinct set of roles these organizations perform,” Hawley says in the letter. “Unlike other small nonprofits, religious organizations often operate in more than one industry. For example, a single entity might operate a church, school, foster care center, publishing house, job training center, and soup kitchen.”

Hawley notes, too, that religious nonprofits often employ individuals at a much lower compensation rate than a normal employer, meaning that they use the same amount of money to employ a larger number of people. As a result, the 500-employee standard wouldn’t properly take into account a nonprofit’s need for payroll assistance.

“Indeed, it may be more appropriate to treat each segment of a religious nonprofit—for example, a foster care center, church, and school—as separate, distinct entities,” he suggests.

Citing the Supreme Court ruling in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, Hawley writes, “Failure to consider an appropriate size standard for religious organizations after having already done so for hundreds of industries would be no different from targeting religious organizations for special disfavor.”

His letter concludes by stating that the SBA should not take into account a religious organization’s affiliates when determining whether it satisfies the size standard, saying doing so would raise “substantial constitutional concerns.”

“Religious organizations are diverse and affiliation decisions often are made for ecclesiastical, doctrinal, or congregational reasons,” the letter states. “Recognizing this problem, federal policy already exempts most religious organizations from having to identify their affiliates.”

Hawley’s full letter can be found here.

Music

‘Music as Balm — and Delight’

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Detail of a portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach at the age of 61 by Elias Gottlob Haussmann (Wikimedia Commons)

That is the title of my new episode of Music for a While. It gives you the story. At the beginning of the show, I ask, “Need I say that music is extra-important in these strange and trying times?” And the answer, of course, is no. It goes without saying.

In this episode, I play music that has meant a lot to a lot of people, over the years. Lotsa Bach. Plus some Chopin, Haydn, and others. There is music that comforts, consoles, and reassures. Music that is balm-like. Then there is music that’s shot through with joy — and imparts joy in the bargain.

I often say, “What would we do without music? Fortunately, we never have to find out.”

Anyway, enough talk, more rock. (Old Detroit radio slogan.) I hope this podcast — again, here — proves a service.

Books

Tomie dePaola, 1934–2020

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Picture books are an art form. Done well, they move you. Tomie dePaola was a master of this art form, and if you have ever read his Clown of God, you know what it is like to be moved by a picture book.

Tomie — don’t you love the spelling of his name? — passed away Monday at the age of 85 due to surgery complications. With over 270 books to his name after decades of publishing, Tomie is truly one of the most beloved children’s literature figures of our day.

We all had those slightly incongruous desires concerning what we wanted to be when we grew up. My brother, for instance, wants to be both a UPS driver and a priest. While the majority of us never follow through on those charming but incompatible whims of youth, Tomie dePaola did, and the world is a more beautiful place for it.

From the age of four, Tomie declared he was going to write and illustrate books and be a tap dancer. To the chagrin — and later delight — of his father, he did both!

But it is his stories that touch the imagination and the soul. They span numerous genres and cover many cultures. Tomie often drew upon his Irish and Italian heritage for folk tales such as Jamie O’Rourke and the Pooka, Old Befana, Fin M’Coul, and the beloved Strega Nona. But he also brought to life Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story, The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush, and The Knight and the Dragon. His numerous other fiction books come crowding to mind, but perhaps none are so charming as those stories he told about his family in the series of chapter books beginning with 26 Fairmont Avenue, Here We All Are, and One My Way. Five more follow these, as well as stand-alone stories about his baby sister, his mom, and his grandparents.

According to the New York Times obituary of Tomie, his favorite holiday was Christmas. But this would’ve been apparent with a glance at his bibliography. The Night of Las Posadas, The Legend of the Poinsettia, Country Angel Christmas, Hark! A Christmas Sampler, and Jingle the Christmas Clown are just a few of the Christmas and Advent stories he tells.

A cradle Catholic, Tomie’s faith was evident in the many books he did illustrating the lives of the saints. Saint Francis and Saint Patrick both received books; The Lady of Guadalupe is a stunning depiction of that miraculous Marian apparition; but most dear to me is his illustrating of Kathleen Norris’s The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica, all about the holy monk and his sister.

But Tomie didn’t just tell these stories. No, he made them come alive with his artwork. The characters are rounded, almost soft. Seemingly simple images upon closer inspection reveal astonishing depth and detail, wonderfully capturing eras and cultures with expert ingenuity. His characters give of such a variety of expressions, and it isn’t just his people. Clouds, trolls, and even his cats and dogs smile, laugh, weep, and look sly. A thoughtful illustrator doesn’t just randomly pick a scene, he carefully considers what is the most important action or moment that will best advance the telling of a story. Tomie’s scene selection, his understanding of color, and his subtle inclusion of relevant symbols all leave a lasting impression on his readers. His colors glow, giving off a sense of warmth and home that in a quiet but powerful way brought light, humor, and joy to generations of children. And may his work continue to be a light for years to come.

Culture

Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye Today: Family Joy in the Time of Coronavirus & More (April 1, 2020)

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Pope Francis delivers the weekly Angelus prayer as it is streamed via video over the internet from inside the Vatican, March 29, 2020. (Vatican Media/Handout via Reuters)

1. Stop everything. There’s a new Andy Ferguson essay: Springtime for Introverts

2. Francis X. Maier:

As a nation, we’ve looked away for decades as others scrubbed God out of our vocabulary, our thinking, and the institutions that support our public life.  Now that we need him, many people don’t have the words or memories to seek him out.

3. This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday. I just remembered I was in Rome for Palm Sunday last year. I wonder if we would have all approached Holy Week differently, if we had any clue what this year would look like.

Here’s an idea about celebrating Palm Sunday. (Put branches on your door.)

4.

5. Pope prays for media helping people endure isolation

6. 60 tons of ventilators, masks, respirators to the U.S. from Russia

7. Medical staffing company cut salary, benefits for medical staffs fighting coronavirus: report

8. Social distancing comes with psychological fallout

9. George Weigel: Transforming Quarantine into Retreat

10. Trying to Teach High School During a Global Pandemic

11. Maryland has very clear guidelines about what is an acceptable religious gathering

12.

13. Knights of Columbus: ‘Leave No Neighbor Behind’

14.  From the Sisters of Life: A Word of Hope in a Time of Fear

 

15.

U.S.

Evangelicals Are the Real Virus

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Samaritan’s Purse has opened up a tent hospital to help New Yorkers deal with Coronavirus by taking overflow from Mount Sinai hospital. But Bill de Blasio and others are concerned. From Gothamist:

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will keep a close eye on the Christian fundamentalist group operating a field hospital in Central Park, amid growing fears that some New Yorkers could face discrimination and substandard care from the religious organization.

Gothamist notes that Samaritan’s Purse is run by a “virulently” anti-gay and Islamophobic pastor Franklin Graham. Got that? The real virus is Evangelicalism. Councilmen are promising to “monitor” the situation, fearing the practice of discrimination or substandard care.

The New York Times ran an op-ed earlier this week blaming Evangelicals for inflicting “coronavirus hell” on Americans though they’ve since changed the title.

For decades, progressives have been saying: “Why are Evangelicals so obsessed with sex? Why can’t they just do good works and help the needy?” But with New York in crisis, progressives have apparently decided that death would be better than letting disgusting, presumptively-criminal Evangelicals help them.

It’s interesting that Samaritan’s Purse is named after the Good Samaritan, who, in Christ’s parable, helps the injured man on the side of the road — despite the fact that he, as a Samaritan, is considered unclean and not part of the House of Israel.

At least New York is not the type of medieval society that blames hated religious minorities for plagues.

Sports

The Grim Outlook for the Sports World’s Returning Anytime Soon

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Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws in the pocket against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., February 2, 2020. (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

The Wimbledon tennis championships, scheduled to run from June 29 to July 12, are canceled — not postponed to a later date, but simply not happening this year, for the first time since 1945.

The country will be in a crisis state for April, May isn’t looking too good either, and clearly, the All England Club does not think the coronavirus outbreak will have sufficiently subsided to hold their signature event in early July.

If you’re a fan of professional basketball, hockey, or baseball, this is really ominous news. The hopes for the NBA or NHL seasons restarting are dimming, and God only knows when circumstances will allow baseball to be played safely again. The major sport that might be able to return the fastest would be the PGA Tour, as golfers probably could compete while remaining six feet away from each other. As of now, the earliest golf event that is not yet canceled is the Charles Schwab Challenge, scheduled to start May 21 in Fort Worth, Texas.

The National Football League says it intends to begin the 2020 season on time in September. One of the more outlandish proposals being tossed around “takes all teams to a location free from coronavirus, tests everyone on the way in, and then sequesters the entire league for the full duration of the season.” On today’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, Greg and I tried to think through the enormous logistical hurdles of this proposal.

First, you would have to find a location free from coronavirus. (In case you’re wondering, as of this writing, the state of South Dakota has the fewest cases of any state, with 108.) Then you would need to have every player, coach, and figure associated with the team test free from coronavirus. That is 1,696 players, roughly 512 coaches, plus trainers, medical staff, referees, etc. Once everyone is certified coronavirus-free, all of those men would need housing and transportation for the duration of the playing season — and for health reasons, the league wouldn’t want them going back away from the newly-designated “Football City.” Then you would need to keep every team in that location — say, Brookings, S.D., where the teams can play in Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium, the home stadium of South Dakota State University. Presumably the games would have no fans in attendance, to maintain social distancing.

Each week that there is no bye week, the 32 teams of the NFL play 16 games. Each game is roughly three hours, so that means each week, that one stadium would have to host roughly 48 hours of football. (Some weeks four teams have a break or bye week; for those weeks, it’s 14 games, so 42 hours of games.)

There just aren’t enough waking hours in a weekend. They could schedule a noon game, a 3 p.m. game, a 6 p.m. game, and a 9 p.m. game for both Saturday and Sunday, and they would still have eight more teams that still need games. Adding the traditional Thursday night game and Monday night game still leaves six more games. A conceivable schedule would be something like two games Thursday night (7 p.m. and 10 p.m.), four games Friday, four games Saturday, four games Sunday, and two games on Monday night.

Hopefully by autumn, the world will have made so much progress in the fight against the coronavirus that these sorts of extreme measures won’t need to be considered. But this cockamamie idea does have one angle that the league would love: With only one game being played at a time . . . every game could reach a national television audience.

Politics & Policy

Impeachment and the Coronavirus

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Mitch McConnell has contended that impeachment distracted the government from meeting the impending danger of the coronavirus. Dan McLaughlin and Rich Lowry have both made versions of this case for NRO, with both focusing on Trump rather than the government as a whole and both adding that the distraction would have been all the greater if Democrats had gotten their way in getting witnesses to testify before the Senate in a prolonged trial.

It is not necessary to disagree with the main points in this case to see four other ones that undercut it.

First — as McLaughlin notes — Trump was minimizing the danger even after his acquittal by the Senate.

Second, his own conduct provoked impeachment. Sure, there were Democrats who wanted to impeach him before they ever heard the name Volodomyr Zelensky. But other Democrats were successfully resisting their push before news of the “perfect” phone call and the rest. Even some strong defenders of the president admitted toward the start of the debate that pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens was potentially serious misconduct. On September 24, 2019, Steve Doocy said on Fox & Friends, “If the president said, you know, ‘I will give you the money but you’ve got to investigate Joe Biden,’ that is really off-the-rails wrong.”

Third, a president can reasonably be held responsible for doing his job in full even during an impeachment. It was entirely within his power to cut back on tweeting and cable viewing to take in a few more briefings about public health.

Fourth, the argument implicitly treats Democratic behavior as the variable and Republican behavior as the constant. Maybe it’s true that Trump would have had more time and headspace to concentrate on coronavirus if Democrats had decided not to impeach him over Ukraine — even though their voters would have been enraged. But if Republicans had decided to buck their voters and abandon Trump, we could have had President Pence overseeing the response to coronavirus. Each of these scenarios of non-partisan behavior is roughly equally otherworldly.

None of this is to say that the president deserves all the blame for the costs our country is paying. On the contrary: He has done and said some very helpful things; some grave errors are bound to happen in a situation like this one; some of the errors in our government’s response are not fairly traceable to him; and we will never know how many lives would have been saved if all of these errors had been avoided (just as we will never know what Trump would have done differently if there had been no impeachment). But whatever responsibility Trump has for what is happening now, impeachment does not relieve him of any of it.

Politics & Policy

Ten Years after Obamacare, Pro-Life Concerns Are Proven Right

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A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro, San Diego, Calif., October 26, 2017. (Mike Blake/REUTERS)

Last week marked the tenth anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The memories of the important political battle over that bill are still fresh in many minds. During 2009 and 2010, pro-lifers provided some of the most vocal opposition to serious flaws of the ACA. In fact, pro-life concerns about the conscience rights of religious employers and taxpayer funding for abortion nearly succeeded in blocking the legislation.

Some pro-lifers believed that Scott Brown’s surprise win in a special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts in 2010 would result in the legislation’s demise. But when Bart Stupak and several members of his coalition of pro-life Democrats in the House reversed themselves to support the legislation, it had enough votes to pass.

During the debate over the ACA, pro-lifers were especially concerned, for several reasons, that the legislation would increase taxpayer funding for abortion. It federally subsidized exchange health-insurance programs, many of which would cover elective abortions. It also heavily subsidized the expansion of state Medicaid programs, which in some states cover elective abortions. The legislation also created additional streams of federal taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s top abortion provider. Finally, the ACA gave the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the ability to regulate employer-based health-insurance plans in ways that could violate employers’ conscience rights.

Today, ten years later, the results of the ACA demonstrate that those pro-life concerns were well-founded. The ACA incentivized states to create health-insurance exchanges in which individuals who do not qualify for Medicaid can purchase a federally subsidized insurance plan; concerns that this would result in federal subsidies for abortion turned out to be correct. An analysis conducted by the Charlotte Lozier Institute and the Family Research Council found that 24 states and the District of Columbia permit elective-abortion coverage in exchange plans, and an estimated 69 percent of those plans in fact cover elective abortions.

Last year, the Trump administration created a rule requiring exchange plans to bill for abortion coverage separately from health-care services, increasing transparency and helping to prevent taxpayer dollars from subsidizing abortion. However, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have sued to block this rule, and it is likely that it will be reversed by a future Democratic administration.

Since the ACA was passed, 35 states have expanded their Medicaid programs. Sixteen of these states cover elective abortions for the Medicaid population. There is also evidence that when Medicaid programs are expanded, the covered population expands, thus increasing the number of taxpayer-funded abortions. The experience of Alaska is instructive on this point. After Alaska expanded its state Medicaid program in 2015, taxpayers funded about 100 more abortions on average each year. There is also evidence from both Minnesota and West Virginia that taxpayer-funded abortions increased after the expansion of their respective state Medicaid programs.

Pro-lifers also were concerned that the ACA would result in additional revenue going to Planned Parenthood, which receives reimbursements through state Medicaid programs. Even if these revenues do not fund abortion directly, money is fungible, and funds that go to Planned Parenthood indirectly subsidize abortion. In 2019, Planned Parenthood reported receiving a whopping $616.8 million in government revenues. Additionally, during the past ten years, taxpayer funding to Planned Parenthood has increased by more than 40 percent in real terms. In fact, taxpayer funding has surpassed health-center income to become Planned Parenthood’s largest source of revenue. The Affordable Care Act is not the only reason for this, but it certainly has played a role.

Finally, pro-lifers worried that the ACA could jeopardize the conscience rights of employers, and that turned out to be the case. In 2012, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius required that employer-based health-insurance plans cover all 20 FDA-approved contraceptives. Craft store Hobby Lobby objected to this policy because four of those contraceptives could work as abortion-inducing drugs, and the owners are Christians who oppose abortion. They filed a lawsuit against the contraceptive mandate, based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment, and they were joined in that lawsuitby several other religious employers. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in their favor in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby in a narrow 5-4 ruling, but ideological changes in the composition of the Supreme Court could jeopardize conscience rights in the future.

Since 2010, conservative efforts to repeal the ACA have not met with success, but pro-lifers have made progress in limiting taxpayer subsidies for abortion and strengthening conscience protections. Twenty-six states now prevent insurance plans sold on their health-care exchanges from covering elective abortion. Eighteen states limit the ability of abortion facilities to receive government funds. Some states have resisted Medicaid expansion, partly out of concerns that it would increase taxpayer funding for abortion. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby provides some protection for the conscience rights of employers, at least in the short term. But it is clear that the ACA will continue to require pro-lifers to be vigilant about protecting both taxpayers and conscience rights for years to come.

Politics & Policy

Small Business Aid May Come with a Lot of Headaches

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(Pixabay)

The CARES Act was praised for approving $350 billion to assist small businesses. The American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Strain has a piece that explains why this program is an important effort.

Unfortunately, with history as our guide, we should fear massive headaches for small businesses trying to access these loans. One reason is that the loans will be administered through by the Small Business Administration, an agency renowned for its failure to perform during disasters. While they will be 7a loans as opposed to disaster loans, there is also no evidence that the agency ever gets reformed between disasters in a way that makes things better the next time around.

The bill provides loans for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. That, according to SBA, represents 99.9 percent of all businesses in America, 81 percent of them without employees. That’s a lot of firms. Strain and Columbia University’s Glenn Hubbard estimate that the demand for these small business loans could reach $1.2 trillion.

SBA will have to handle an exponentially large number of requests than it normally does. Politico writes:

It’s unclear whether the Small Business Administration’s modest bureaucracy can get it going fast enough to save firms from the brink, or administer 13 times its annual deal flow in just two months with any effectiveness. Its track record administering emergency loans, in fact, has at times been shockingly bad.

It doesn’t help that many big businesses will also be competing for these SBA loans too, thanks to an exception to the 500-employee limit for hotel and restaurant chains.

Alex Rampell (h/t to Tyler Cowen) over at Andreessen Horowitz, adds:

. . . the last mile of identifying, adjudicating, and disbursing assistance without a sea of fraud is a new challenge, one that the government is wholly unprepared for, and for which technology is the needed answer. Now. . . .

The stimulus bill is going to direct funds through the Small Business Administration, but the SBA doesn’t really make loans. It simply guarantees loans made by banks. For many banks, the way you apply for an SBA 7a loan is to prepare tons of documents, go to your local branch, and then wait as long as 90 days. Wells Fargo has a fancy website, but for SBA loans it directs you to your local branch for a process that takes dozens of hours of form collections and physical signatures followed by months of waiting. Many private lenders approve loans in hours, so the SBA process has historically been an adverse selection lending trap.

SBA is not the only ossified bureaucracy incapable of generating a rapid response. Now is not the time to ignore this reality. As Cowen writes, “We need to be honest with ourselves about who is capable of generating rapid response and who is not.”  That’s why we should look for innovative ideas to handle this rather than fall back on what is around even though we know it doesn’t work well. Rampell has a suggestion worth listening to about how financial technology can help.

By the way, it is worth mentioning that the 500-employee limit may also cause some firms to fire employees to fit under the limit, as University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan explains here.

Also, tech difficulties are making it hard for Treasury to send CARES Act checks to millions of Americans.

Economy & Business

Don’t Put SALT in a Relief Bill

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, ahead of a vote on relief for the coronavirus disease in Washington, D.C., March 27, 2020 (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

The Republican tax reform of 2017 imposed a $10,000 limit on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. That new limit raised taxes on high earners in high-tax jurisdictions, which are, of course, often Democratic-leaning. Democrats, and the taxpayers affected, have understandably wanted to get rid of the limit ever since. But getting rid of the limit would obviously be a tax cut that disproportionately benefited the affluent, which is exactly the kind of thing they usually denounce.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wants the next round of stimulus legislation to raise the cap (retroactively!) in some way that allegedly benefits middle earners and not high earners. Supposedly this will give people more disposable income, they’ll spend it, and the new spending will boost the economy. But even if you buy the macroeconomic theory, lifting the cap is a bizarre way to raise disposable income.

Nor is it obvious how you would be able to provide significant tax relief to the middle class this way. Even with the cap in place in 2018, only about one million of the 16.6 million tax returns that claimed the deduction were for households making less than $75,000.

When President Trump and other Republicans suggested cutting the payroll tax, it was widely criticized because it wouldn’t help the people who needed help (if you’re out of a job, you’re not paying payroll tax) and would help a lot of high earners. But that idea would be much better targeted than lifting the cap on the state and local tax deduction.

The Democrats are, in short, just using the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to get something they want, whether or not it meets the needs of the moment.

U.S.

COVID-19 Mortality Rate: A Grim Update

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Medical staff care for patients infected with the Coronavirus in regional hospitals, Paris, France. April 1, 2020. (Thomas Samson/Reuters)

Yesterday, in explaining the decision to extend the heavy restrictions on communal and economic life, President Trump and his coronavirus task force related that we are in for a very rough next three weeks (up from what the president had just recently estimated would be two weeks). The bleak message was that things are going to get worse, much worse, before they get better.

Those of us who have been closely watching the fatality rate (see here and here) can see that we are already onto the getting-worse phase. Dramatically so.

According to the Worldometer statistics (which are consistent with those compiled by Johns Hopkins University), the U.S. mortality rate has surged to 2.16 percent (4,099 deaths out of 189,711 reported cases as of this morning). Last week, it was about 1.5 percent. The U.S. rate is still less than half of the global rate of 5 percent (44,214 deaths out of 885,301 reported cases), which itself is probably a gross understatement (unless you believe the rosy reports from China — see Jim Geraghty’s nonpareil reporting on that, here and here, as well as our Zachary Evans’s report this morning). Nevertheless, the uptick is alarming.

Remember, Dr. Anthony Fauci has been saying the mortality rate would probably be about 1 percent, and perhaps significantly below that. Nevertheless, he concedes that current modeling projects that between 100,000 and 200,000 (or more) Americans infected with the coronavirus will perish. To revisit an oft-touted comparison, the death rate for influenza, from which tens of thousands of Americans die each year, is just 0.1 percent. (After initially analogizing COVID-19 to the flu, over which we do not shut down the country, the president rejected the analogy at yesterday’s briefing.)

I’ve been continuing to keep tabs on a daily mortality rate, based on each day’s reported deaths and new cases. To repeat, this is a rough and imperfect computation, since the newly reported deaths overwhelmingly do not arise out of the day’s newly reported cases. It is, however, a useful indication of how things are trending. Right now, it is frightening. Just ten days ago, the daily rate was hovering over 1 percent. Yesterday, it was 3.29 percent as deaths hit a record daily high of 912 (well over 300 more than on any previous day), as new cases swelled to 24,742. The numbers have been getting worse all week, with just one day (March 29) slightly under 2 percent, and most others well over it (2.70 and 2.75 percent on, respectively, March 28 and 30).

It is said that we should expect the numbers to rise because much more testing is being done. I confess to being confused by this. Obviously, additional testing would explain the spike in the number of reported cases. But the rate is the rate. One would think it would stay fairly constant regardless of the number of cases (notwithstanding the wide disparities between rates when we compare countries). In fact, if we assume the mortality rate should be around 1 percent, then one would expect that more reported cases would drive the mortality rate down. To the contrary, it is surging.

Perhaps this is a function of the weeks-long incubation and progression of COVID-19 infections. We are now seeing deaths that stem from infections that happened before drastic social-distancing restrictions, business shutdowns, and quarantines were put in place. One hopes that we will soon see the mortality rate come down as a lagging result of these measures, along with widespread additional testing. Still, we’re now told there are going to be millions of cases, so the difference between a rate of over 2 percent versus a rate of around 1 percent would be catastrophic.

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