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.

Elections

The 2020 Democratic Convention Probably Will Not Go On, At Least Not As Planned

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden addresses the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, during a campaign event in South Carolina, February 28, 2020. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Joe Biden says, reasonably, that the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee scheduled for mid-July probably won’t be able to go on as planned. He didn’t propose any specific changes, merely telling Brian Williams of MSNBC, “It may have to be different.”

Besides the ongoing coronavirus concerns, there are four related factors that could really complicate any event designed to officially name Biden the party’s nominee:

(1) Any significant health issue for the 77-year-old Biden, whether it is connected to the coronavirus or not, will generate an effort to replace him as the nominee.

(2) Any polling suggesting Biden will not be able to beat Trump will generate similar discussion of replacing him. (Right now, the polling for Biden looks fine.) Democrats did not move en masse to nominate the former vice president out of a deep-rooted love for Biden himself or some sort of “Bidenism” philosophy; it was the belief that Biden was more likely to beat Trump than Bernie Sanders. If Biden doesn’t look like a safe bet in November, Democrats will have second thoughts.

(3) The Andrew Cuomo buzz. Why shouldn’t Democrats at least consider a governor who has already proven, with the whole country watching, how he handles an unprecedented crisis? The challenges that the president will face in January 2021 already look completely different from how they did back on Super Tuesday — economic challenges, lingering public-health challenges, national-security challenges, the U.S. relationship with China, global instability, and more. Democrats may reasonably ask why they should remain locked into a decision they reached before the coronavirus forced far-reaching, sudden, drastic changes in American life.

(4) A widespread sense that even if Biden is still competitive in the polls, he just can’t adapt to campaigning during the time of the coronavirus.

No one knows exactly how long “social-distancing” rules will last, but it will probably only be safe to interact with people in large crowds “when enough of the population — possibly 60 or 80 percent of people — is resistant to COVID-19.” At this point, authorities are still trying to figure out when it will be okay for Americans to gather in large groups — the kind we’re used to seeing at sports events, concerts . . . and of course, political rallies and campaign events. Suddenly retail political skills mean nothing; candidates cannot interact with strangers, and may not be able to for a long while.

Joe Biden’s remote appearances from his basement in livestreams and television interviews are . . . mixed. Biden’s garbled verbiage and wandering off-the-cuff statements don’t seem as bad when he’s interacting with a crowd. Trump is a similar personality, and most politicians draw energy from the reactions of a live audience in front of them. Trump is on the airwaves every day. How does a presidential campaign build support when it can’t . . . you know, campaign?

During a chat on the Remnant podcast yesterday, our old friend Jonah wondered if we would see campaign-themed facemasks at the convention, if it happens. Whatever you do, don’t decorate your facemask with campaign buttons!

Politics & Policy

Can We Stop Talking about Pandemic Deaths in Red/Blue Terms?

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A medical specialist smokes near ambulances equipped with lung ventilators, purchased by local authorities for patients infected with coronavirus disease.March 19, 2020. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Our hyper-partisan age demands that just about everything be seen through the lens of Red America and Blue America. Sometimes, that goes too far.

One of the uglier sides of this tendency is the ongoing race to argue over whether more people are getting sick and dying in red or blue states. A fair amount of this stuff originated with the “Always Be Owning the Libs” crowd on the right, when the early infectious outbreaks were concentrated most heavily in New York, California, and Washington. Some of the pushback on the left resulted from that. But the efforts on the left to push a “it’s coming worse for the red states” narrative have come from people who would normally be considered more respectable. We’ve seen everything from Yahoo asking why “Blue” communities are hit harder to the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog’s analyzing Google searches broken down by red/purple/blue states to Nate Silver’s posting charts (regularly updated on Twitter) of infection rates by “Trump states” and “Clinton states.”

Methodologically, there are problems with this kind of thinking. Most states have enclaves that are very politically and/or culturally out of step with the state’s overall partisan lean, from deep-red upstate New York to the black communities of South Carolina and Mississippi. Only a handful of states has been monolithically governed by one party at the state and major-municipal levels over the past decade, and a number of states have been less than consistently red or blue at the presidential level. Was Maine still a blue state under Paul LePage? Is Louisiana red under John Bel Edwards? Was Florida a blue state when it voted for Obama twice?

More to the point, even if it is entirely reasonable in a postmortem to evaluate how, say, Republican and Democratic governors as a group handled the pandemic response, it is ghoulish to be tracking this stuff for the purposes of partisan point-scoring while the bodies are still piling up. The more we think in those terms, the more we start (even if subconsciously) rooting for them to happen. The more we get dug into media narratives of that nature, the more we give national politicians an incentive to focus on making their own “side” look better instead of promoting best practices and national solidarity.

Partisan politics can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t go away in a national crisis; it’s the adversarial system that keeps democracy from devolving entirely into a conspiracy of the governing class against the people. But can we at least stop seeing the illness and death of fellow Americans as “red people” and “blue people” in the middle of a pandemic?

Health Care

A Disgusting Fraud

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Philip Klein: “A story that went viral about the Food and Drug Administration approving a two-minute test for coronavirus antibodies looks like a cruel hoax timed to coincide with April Fools’ Day.”

 

Education

How the COVID-19 Crisis Could Make Higher Ed Better

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American colleges and universities have sent their students home and nearly all face a much-constrained future. That sounds dire. But what if the current crisis leads to greater efficiency and sounder practices?

Professor Robert Wright argues in today’s Martin Center article that the higher-education establishment, grown too fat and happy, could make changes that will lower costs for students and put themselves on a stronger financial footing. He writes:

Many colleges and universities will evidently have to tighten their belts for some time. Counterintuitively, it would be the lack of resources rather than a surfeit of them that could spur positive change among our very costly but not very effective schools.

The last thing we need, on the other hand, is a big federal bailout that lets college leaders escape without having to trim unnecessary bloat.

Wright also suggests that donors can help by targeting their money towards science and health programs that might provide some lasting benefits, as opposed to general giving that will help keep afloat lots of educational junk and make-work administrative jobs.

Americans are learning some good new habits regarding hygiene as a result of this crisis. Let’s hope they also learn some good lessons about higher ed.

Politics & Policy

Circuit Court Blocks Trump-Administration Rule Removing Government Funding from Abortion Providers

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Pro-life and pro-choice demonstrators argue outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., March 4, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked a Trump-administration rule that removes Title X family-planning funds from abortion providers. The administration announced the policy, also known as the “Protect Life” rule, in May 2018, and since then it has been embroiled in legal battles with abortion providers and other abortion advocates including the ACLU, which have argued that the rule infringes on abortion rights as defined in U.S. jurisprudence.

But in late February, judges on the Ninth Circuit upheld the policy, lifting injunctions that district courts had placed on the rule and allowing it to take effect across most of the country. This latest decision from the Fourth Circuit makes Maryland the one state where the Protect Life rule cannot take effect while the legal challenge is pending, and the circuit-court split suggests that the Supreme Court may take up the case to resolve the dispute.

Planned Parenthood has been, unsurprisingly, one of the most prominent opponents of the Protect Life rule, and it has joined attorneys general from Democratic states in suing the federal government. As the largest abortion provider in the country — performing more than 348,000 abortions each year, which is somewhere between one-third and half of all the annual abortions in the U.S. — Planned Parenthood had the most to lose when this policy took effect.

Though the Protect Life rule does not specifically target Planned Parenthood, it requires any organization that performs abortions to financially separate its abortion business from any health care that it offers in order to continue receiving family-planning funds under Title X. Planned Parenthood refused to comply, and as a result its affiliates lost about $40 million that it had typically received each year from Title X. (It is worth noting that this barely makes a dent in the half a billion dollars that Planned Parenthood receives annually from the federal government, most of which comes not from Title X but in the form of Medicaid reimbursements.)

In his decision blocking the policy, prior to this latest ruling from the Fourth Circuit, district judge Richard D. Bennett wrote, “Literally every major medical organization in the United States has opposed implementation of this rule. There is almost no professional support for its implementation.” Bennett appears to have forgotten that a judge’s role is not to assess whether various public institutions support or oppose a policy but rather to determine whether that policy is imposed lawfully and in line with previous precedent.

It was this absurd decision that the Fourth Circuit upheld late last week, ignoring the fact that, as the Ninth Circuit opinion acknowledged, the Title X rule is less restrictive than a 1988 version of the same policy that the Supreme Court upheld. The Ninth Circuit’s deviation from its typical support for unlimited abortion rights was a welcome surprise; the Fourth Circuit’s choice to play to type is disappointing.

Coronavirus Update

Coronavirus Update: White House Projects At Least 100,000 Deaths

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Health workers carry out a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance during a transfer operation. France April 1, 2020. (Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 are approaching 200,000 in the U.S., with more than 4,000 deaths so far. Yesterday, the White House Coronavirus Task Force projected between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the U.S., even if social-distancing measures are kept in place. “This could be a hell of a bad two weeks,” said President Trump. Cases continue to grow across the country, with 25 states now reporting more than 1,000 cases. Yesterday, a technical issue prevented the Washington state Department of Health from reporting new case and death numbers.

Graph: Daniel Tenreiro
Data: covidtracking.com

New York continues to struggle in its fight against coronavirus. While the growth rate in new cases has fallen, the sheer number of infected individuals — more than 75,000 — is alarming. For comparison, the case growth rate in New York has far exceeded that of Lombardy, the hardest-hit region of Italy. However, Lombardy has seen a much higher death toll, likely due to its high proportion of elderly people.

Graph: Daniel Tenreiro
Data: covidtracking.com, Italian Ministry of Health

1,550 people have died from COVID-19 complications in New York. The death tolls in Michigan, New Jersey, and Louisiana are also rising at an alarming rate.

Graph: Daniel Tenreiro
Data: covidtracking.com

Meanwhile, domestic testing has stalled. The rapid growth in tests administered last week has not kept up. Yesterday, the U.S. tested fewer than 100,000 people.

Graph: Daniel Tenreiro
Data: covidtracking.com
Culture

‘April Is the Cruelest Month’

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“April is the cruelest month” in T.S. Eliot’s 1921 poem The Waste Land because, as spring brought signs of new life and renewal, Europe was in a crumbling, dying mess in the wake of World War I. Eliot wrote his most famous work while recovering from a nervous breakdown, in the peak of marital distress, and six years prior to his conversion to Anglicanism.

Eliot said that his intention was to express the same kind of suffering in The Waste Land that Beethoven had in his final string quartets. “I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” Eliot pens in his first section, “The Burial of the Dead,” referring to the post-war generation’s reckoning with death and spiritual irrelevance, a theme later explored in Evelyn Waugh’s first seriously Catholic novel, A Handful of Dust (1934).

The Waste Land, in five parts, was trimmed down significantly with Ezra Pound’s help but is still a notoriously difficult read. The best way to understand the poem’s endless allusions — obscure in some places, impenetrable in others — is to have both the text and a glossary to hand. However, it’s also possible to appreciate the poem on a more basic level: its lyrical flow, jarring juxtapositions, and surprising images. If interested in doing so, I recommend listening to this reading by Alec Guinness.

 

World

The Country with the Worst Coronavirus Response in the World Is . . .

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Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (blue) infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (red), also known as novel coronavirus, isolated from a patient sample. Image captured at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH/Handout via Reuters)

When writing the thriller a few years ago, I researched a bit on Turkmenistan, perhaps one of the few regimes and countries in the world that can make North Korea look sane, honest, and well-run. It has become quite stylish to complain that the United States government is handling the coronavirus worse than any other country in the world. (As discussed in today’s Morning Jolt, even the East Asian countries that are handling it well with draconian social monitoring are still facing a growing number of cases.)

No, dear readers, the government that is handling the coronavirus worse than any other country in the world is Turkmenistan, and if the reports out of that country are right, it isn’t even close:

The Central Asian country of Turkmenistan claims it has no coronavirus cases. But if you happen to utter the word “coronavirus” while waiting, say, for the bus in the white-marbled capital Ashgabat, there’s a good chance you’ll be arrested.

That’s because the Turkmen government, run since 2006 by the flamboyant dentist-rapper strongman Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has reportedly banned the word, according to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Citing reports from Chronicles of Turkmenistan, which RSF describes as a rare independent media outlet in this notoriously secretive and restrictive country, the press freedom organization says Berdymukhamedov’s government has forbidden state-controlled media from writing or uttering the word and has ordered its removal from health brochures distributed at hospitals, schools and workplaces.

Those of us outside Turkmenistan can’t do much about the wildly closed, authoritarian, and isolated country, other than be thankful that we don’t live there. But this extreme example demonstrates a point that is all too easily forgotten in discussions about how countries are responding to the threat of the coronavirus. Leaders in free societies can lie; more often they spin, exaggerate, fudge numbers, make rosy projections, and downplay bad news. And thankfully often in free societies, their lies are exposed, and those leaders suffer the consequences of those lies.

In dictatorships and authoritarian countries, those lies are rarely quickly or widely exposed, and those lies can have much more dire consequences. If the coronavirus gets into Turkmenistan — there are few countries that get fewer tourists or international travelers than the Central Asian dictatorship  — the population is toast. They won’t be informed, they won’t be warned, and they won’t be prepared.

Right now, the Chinese government is almost certainly lying about the total number of cases, the total number of deaths, the rate of spread, and almost everything else it is saying about the coronavirus. We should not let them or anyone else convince us that closed societies are somehow better equipped to handle a viral pandemic. Authoritarian countries rarely solve problems; they only replace them with new problems — and when it comes to the worst problems, they usually exacerbate them.

Culture

Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today (March 31, 2020)

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1. Oh goodness, God rest the soul of Hilary Teachout and console her loving husband, Terry.

2. Please pray for the repose of the soul of Thomas Carney. His daughter, Christine, was one of my dearest high-school friends. He has died of Coronavirus.

3: Coronavirus forces Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre to close its doors for first time since 1349

4. Something I wrote about Friday’s prayer service at the Vatican: How the pope put ‘truth on display’ in an empty St. Peter’s Square

5. Nurses Are the Coronavirus Heroes

Continue reading “Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today (March 31, 2020)”

NR Webathon

Webathon Off and Running Thanks to Such Decent Friends

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William F. Buckley Jr.

Chips may indeed be down in plenty of places, but when they are, well, that’s when the selfless kindness of National Review’s friends is particularly sweet (and, of course, beneficial). We launch this short fundraising effort, likely to conclude on or about Easter Sunday, to raise $100,000 (more if possible, maybe if one of you buys tomorrow’s winning Powerball ticket?) to underwrite our publishing costs. These have always been a challenge, and as you can imagine, of late, a profound challenge. We ask knowing the economic backdrop of this time of real crisis and attending fears — but then we ask knowing that NR’s editorial output has been so valuable, describable as a day-in-and-out exercise in exceptional truth-telling. There is that kind of occasion to which conservatives need NR to have risen. We have. And we ask that some of you rise along with us and send sorely needed assistance.

Many have. And along with their aid there are motivating words of praise, thanks, inspiration — they run a happy gamut. We share some examples:

  • Paul goes big with a $500 contribution and some major-league back-slapping: “This is too long in coming, but I hope it comes at a time when it’s most needed. Special thanks to Jim Geraghty for his valuable public service in the current moment. For that matter, thank you to all of your contributors, who are helping to make sense out of what of late is a most confusing world.” Was worth the wait, Paul. You rock!
  • Mike parts with a C Note and makes us blush: “G. K. Chesterton, in the London Illustrated News (1931), wrote: ‘Because our expression is imperfect we need friendship to fill up the imperfections.’ National Review is a friend, a trusted companion that fills up the imperfections, an institution to remind us of the eternal verities. Whether combating the depredations of the Progressive Left or the Wuhan Coronavirus, we are blessed to have William F. Buckley’s gift to the people — National Review. Keep up the great work!” Dogs of hot diggitiness, thems are kind and heartfelt words that inspire. Many thanks, Mike.
  • James too spots NR $100 and encourages: “Times like these we need conservative voices more than ever. Somehow this too will pass and the US will be stronger than ever. Keep up the good work at National Review.” Keeping . . . because we have friends like Jimbo!
  • Peter sends along – did I get this right — $1,000 (zounds!), and keeps the attending sentiment short and sweet: “Keep it up and hang tough.” Thanks to such kindness we are not left hanging. This means a ton, so thanks Peter.
  • Deborah tenders a sweet $50 and gets to the nub: “Thank you for providing information that cuts through the fog of dis- and misinformation.” The lights burn ever brighter with your generosity. Thank you!

This quintet of kindly souls are among the 150 or so who today have bellied up to the bar and dropped something of great value into the NR tip jar. If you’re wondering: No amount is too insignificant. We do indeed believe in the transformative power of the Widow’s Mite. If you can do such, would you? Or more? Help us please to reach out $100,000 goal. If you have already helped, many thanks. If you have not, please do give here. If you fancy making contributions via the U.S. Mail, then send a check payable to “National Review” addressed to National Review, ATTN: 2020 Webathon, 19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701, New York, NY 10036. We wish God’s blessings and graces on all our readers and supporters, especially those who believe, as do we, that National Review’s valuable, above-and-beyond truth-telling — in this national and global episode of epic concern — merits the attention, prayers, and sustaining generosity of our conservative friends.

World

A View from Milan

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Cathedral Square in Milan on March 11, 2020 — the second day of Italy’s national lockdown, occasioned by the coronavirus (Flavio Lo Scalzo / Reuters)

The guest on my Q&A podcast last week came to us from Milan: Katie Harris, the language maven. The guest this week comes to us from Milan as well: Alberto Mingardi, who is a writer and intellectual — a political scientist, by training. He is the executive director of the Bruno Leoni Institute, a free-market think tank. Milan, as you know, has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus. So has Italy in general.

Alberto and I talk about this, of course. I ask him personal questions, social questions, political questions. The pandemic is imposing costs of all sorts. On March 7 — which seems an eternity ago — Alberto wrote me, “Economic disruption will be massive, and Lombardy, one the richest areas in Europe since the 14th century, will eventually become poor.” That statement hit me like a thunder clap.

Jonah Goldberg says that the present plague should be known as the “confirm-your-priors virus.” Nationalists, populists, socialists, and assorted other types contend that the crisis upon us confirms everything they have believed all along. What does Mingardi think?

And, by the way, is liberal democracy in peril?

Italian politicians, says Mingardi, have seized the opportunity to enlarge the state, something they are looking to do in any season. Politicians elsewhere are doing this too, of course. Whether they can effect permanent changes — for the worse — remains to be seen.

Our podcast does not exclude literature and music, for Alberto has long experience and extensive knowledge of each. A man to listen to, coming from a city, and a country, that has been battered every which way.

Again, here.

Science & Tech

‘No Evidence for Temperature-Dependence of the COVID-19 Epidemic’

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One of the many unknowns of the novel coronavirus pandemic: Does it abate with hotter, more humid weather? SARS showed a tendency to do that, so there was early speculation that COVID-19 would as well. On February 10, President Trump said: “It looks like by April, you know in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away — I hope that’s true.” Later research merely suggested this was possible. Now researchers from Saudi Arabia find “no evidence that spread rates decline with temperatures above 20 [degrees Celsius], suggesting that the COVID-19 disease is unlikely to behave as a seasonal respiratory virus.” That would be very bad news.

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Twitter, even more so than blogs, offered us the revolutionary promise of a virtual town square: You could hear from and engage with people from many walks of life, the prominent and the ordinary, in real time. You could read news as it breaks, debate the great issues of the day, and have fun. That promise ... Read More

The 41 Worst People You Meet on Twitter

Twitter, even more so than blogs, offered us the revolutionary promise of a virtual town square: You could hear from and engage with people from many walks of life, the prominent and the ordinary, in real time. You could read news as it breaks, debate the great issues of the day, and have fun. That promise ... Read More

Evangelicals Are the Real Virus

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 ... Read More

Evangelicals Are the Real Virus

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 ... Read More