Signs of Hope

Passengers get into a bus at a surface transport station following the metro shutdown – a decision introduced by local authorities to confront the coronavirus (COVID-19), in Kiev, Ukraine March 18, 2020. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

On the menu today: preparing for a global war against a faceless, nonhuman enemy; what Bernie Sanders is putting at risk by staying the Democratic primary; a tough question for the president from Kevin Williamson; and some if-you-dare relationship advice from Kat Timpf.

‘We Have an Enemy in Coronavirus That Is Faceless’

I liked this short video that actor Matthew McConaughey posted last night. It’s nothing profound. Just an observation that all of us are inadvertently and unexpectedly more united at this moment that we have been in generations. No matter our politics, no matter our race, no matter our faith, no matter what we believe or where we come from — we are all now in the same situation, threatened by a virus that is trying to kill us and the ones we love. It has a better shot of killing some of us than others, but it doesn’t really care one way or another. Because it has no conscious intentions, it doesn’t intend to spare anyone.

This sort of forced unity is often a theme in alien invasion movies — the idea that we as human beings are often factional and bickering and inherently divided into tribes, up until the moment when a greater threat arrives, and then suddenly those previous differences seem immaterial. Whether you prefer War of the Worlds or Independence Day or Edge of Tomorrow, we are all threatened, worldwide, by something that is not human, is targeting people with potentially lethal force, and is not interested in negotiation. Ugly green spheres with little red prickles have landed . . . and it’s us against them. And the coronavirus may not be everywhere in the country and on earth, but it is now in all 50 states.

“We are all in this together” is often a tired and not-all-that-accurate cliché. But in this case, we are. Your decisions could well end up having enormous consequences for everyone around you. Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben told us, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” But in this case, the reverse is true. We have this great responsibility to take steps to protect each other, because we have the power to take steps to protect each other. You don’t need superpowers or advanced training or off-the-charts IQ or anything else to help in this fight. All you need is good judgment and to persistently apply it — and to be patient.

Because we can’t see the virus, we can’t be certain who has it without testing. (Even if you’re tested and the test comes back negative, you could still catch it later on.) Carriers can be asymptomatic. It’s not always easy for laymen to distinguish what they fear could be coronavirus symptoms from the flu, or the common cold, or spring allergies. We are not quite sure if, once you’ve beaten the virus, you can be re-infected. The current answer from medical experts is “once you’ve had coronavirus, you probably can’t get it a second time.”

This is going to suck. But in the long history of Americans needing to sacrifice for their fellow countrymen, this is pretty small potatoes. This isn’t being asked to storm the beaches at Normandy, or survive the winter at Valley Forge, or fight on during the Argonne offensive. (I was about to write, ‘this isn’t like being asked to survive the Great Depression,’ but I guess we should see just how bad the economy gets.) We’re going to have to put up with some considerable disruptions to our lives and some serious economic pain. But when we get to the other side of this — as McConaughey puts it, when that red light turns green — we’re all going to be able to look at each other and know that all of us, working together, saved lives. Every day, social media give us at least one daily reminder about how stupid and selfish human beings can be. This crisis is going to give us a lasting reminder of how good people can be when it counts.

And there are signs of hope. Vaccine testing is underway already. Dozens of medical research firms around the world are working on a vaccine, and several claim they’re already making progress. New research indicates the fatality rates may be lower than we initially feared, perhaps only 2.7 percent for people over age 64.

If re-infection is impossible or even rare, every day gets us a little closer to herd immunity.

And thank God — no, really, let us pause and thank God — that so far, the coronavirus seems to be a minimal threat to children.

Stubborn Bernie Sanders Undermines His Own Cause

What if the Bernie Sanders campaign doesn’t launch a socialist revolution . . . but instead effectively quashes the cause of socialism in the United States for the foreseeable future?

For starters, if Bernie Sanders doesn’t end his campaign this week, the average Democrat is going to hate him. The primary is over. Joe Biden is 286 delegates ahead of Sanders, and he’s 844 delegates away from clinching it. We knew Florida was going to be a good state for Biden, but the former vice president won 62 percent to 23 percent. Biden crushed Sanders in Illinois, 59 percent to 36 percent. And in Arizona, Biden won 44 percent to 32 percent. (A lot of votes for “other” in Arizona.)

Sanders is probably going to get curb-stomped in almost every primary from here on out, presuming that it is safe to hold primaries. As we saw in Ohio yesterday and in many other states, a lot of government officials aren’t sure it’s a good idea to have lots of people congregating and standing on line in every community in America. State officials don’t want to cancel the presidential primary entirely, but if every candidate except one drops out, they can justify that decision. Sanders alone can drive the decision for almost half the states. (As mentioned yesterday, quite a few states hold their non-presidential primaries after the Democratic national convention.) By staying in, Sanders is making these states go ahead with gatherings that put lots of people, particularly senior citizens, at greater risk. And he’s the one who’s always saying other people have to make sacrifices for the greater good! Why should so many other people live with a greater risk because he’s stubborn and doesn’t want to admit defeat?

Bernie Sanders chose to spend a portion of what is probably the past primary debate insisting that China deserves credit for “making progress in ending extreme poverty over the last 50 years.” It is always a bad time to be an apologist for the Chinese government, but this is a particularly appalling moment to insist, on national television, that the rulers in Beijing never get enough credit for the good they’ve done — which was, in large part, driven by economic pressures forcing them to shift away from socialist centralized planning and towards free-market capitalism.

If Biden loses in November, it probably won’t be primarily (no pun intended) because of Sanders. But Sanders’s refusal to withdrawal back in 2016 left bad blood among Democrats more loyal to Hillary Clinton. If the Vermont senator does the same thing two cycles in a row, most Democrats will see him as a sore loser and a troublemaker, someone who always put his own personal ambitions and vanity over the bigger picture. If this comes to pass, it will be a long time before someone says, “we need to nominate someone like Bernie Sanders.”

Some will argue that socialism is not in retreat but ascendant, at a time when the U.S. government is discussing a trillion-dollar bailout and economic stimulus. But the forces of government and business working together is standard in American life when a serious life-or-death crisis such as this one hits. Our old friend Jonah has written many times about the way progressives misuse the concept of “the moral equivalent of war” for whatever cause they deem important at any given time — the New Deal, the War on Poverty, the Great Society, the space race, the response to the Great Recession, climate change. A global pandemic that is highly contagious and particularly dangerous to the elderly and immunocompromised, and that could potentially overwhelm our hospitals and intensive-care units is indeed a threat that qualifies as the moral equivalent of war.

Even the Libertarians are thinking this is the current generation’s version of World War II.

ADDENDUM: Kevin Williamson with a fair question to the president: “Did we hire you to sit around and kvetch on Twitter about the mistakes of your predecessor, or did we hire you to fix them?

Our Kat Timpf offers a formula to ensure maximum household chaos while you’re quarantined.

Politics & Policy

States Should Be Careful with Restrictions on Their Citizens

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy takes part in a summit in New York City, October 17, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day . . . for once, it’s okay to be drinking alone.

A confusing primary election day begins in three states, but not Ohio; some thoughts on just how we should manage the primaries for the rest of spring; wondering whether some of the restrictions announced by cities and states are starting to approach an overreaction; and Three Martini Lunch listener and former HHS official Tevi Troy was an oracle all along, and sadly we didn’t listen to him.

Ohio Is Not Voting Today. Arizona, Florida, and Illinois Are.

Who decides whether Ohio holds its primary election as scheduled? The answer ultimately rested with the Ohio Supreme Court, which issued its decision early this morning. If you went to bed thinking that the state would be holding its primary today, it’s okay to be confused:

There is no Ohio primary Tuesday.

Early Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court denied a legal challenge to the state delaying the primary. A candidate in Wood County filed the action alleging the delay of the primary violated election laws.

Only four justices participated in the ruling, which was issued without an opinion.

The ruling capped a chaotic 12 hours in which it appeared the election was off, back on, and then off again.

I’ve seen some people I respect characterize DeWine’s decision as “totalitarian,” and the Facebook comments I’ve seen are highly critical of the governor. Is postponing a primary election a totalitarian move?

Or is this a concession to the fact that we simply can’t do “social distancing” at the same time that people are congregating in one place such as polling places — many of them elderly! — and interacting with a lot of strangers? A lot of poll workers are getting up there in years, and that’s precisely the demographic that health officials want to keep self-quarantined or away from large groups of strangers.

Note that DeWine filed suit to postpone and reschedule the primary election; he did not and could not cancel the election by himself. The checks and balances of constitutional government are still being honored. This is not paving the way for President Trump to cancel the November elections, as many ill-informed individuals are contending. The president doesn’t have the power to reschedule a federal election. Congress would have to change federal law setting the date for the election “on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November.” The Constitution sets the president’s term at four years. Theoretically, Congress could move Election Day back a few weeks (or ahead!) but it cannot change the term of a U.S. president. One way or another, on January 20, someone’s getting sworn in.

Maybe it’s easy for those of us outside the state to recommend a delay because we have nothing at stake. The Democratic presidential primary is effectively over. There are a pair of potentially competitive Democratic primaries for Congress.

But is holding the primary on March 17 so sacrosanct that it makes the risk to elderly poll workers and voters worth it?

Quite a few states have separate dates for their presidential primary and other state office primaries. For example, New York state has its presidential primary April 28. It has its state primary June 23. Would it make that much of a difference to postpone it two months?

But this won’t work for every state. Wyoming is scheduled to hold its Democratic caucus April 4. Their primary is August 18. The Democratic National Convention is scheduled for July 13. (How long until it becomes time to contemplate rescheduling that, or the August 14 Republican National Convention?)

Dan McLaughlin argues that it’s time for Bernie Sanders to end his campaign. I doubt Sanders will do that. In 2016, Hillary Clinton reached the needed number of delegates to win the nomination on June 6; Sanders didn’t concede or congratulate her on her victory until June 16, and he didn’t endorse her until July 12. The Democratic National Convention began July 25.

It’s One Thing to Ask More of Citizens. It’s Another to Threaten to Punish Them.

I am on board with a lot of the state and local government efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus; as mentioned yesterday, just about every state has broad and far-reaching powers and authorities to enforce quarantines.

But it does feel like some governors and mayors have entered a game of “can you top this?” when it comes to restrictions upon their citizens.

The reports of a “curfew” in New Jersey are not quite accurate; Governor Phil “Murphy stopped short of actually ordering a curfew in the state, but he told residents they should not leave their homes between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless it is an emergency or essential travel.” I think it is good and wise for the government to strongly recommend actions to protect against the coronavirus, including restrictions on moving around. Once you start enforcing those restrictions with police powers, we enter different and potentially dangerous territory.

It’s not clear why state and local authorities would want people off the streets in the evening. The coronavirus is as contagious in daylight as it is at night. If people were using the darkness as cover for looting or other crimes, that would be a different story.

Hoboken mayor Ravi S. Bhalla is attempting a curfew, but he’s at least for now indicating that enforcement will consist of the police telling you to go home.

Ferrante said his officers “will be very diplomatic” with the curfew.

“It is not about arrests at all,” he said. “It is not to stop the individual walking their dog, or going to or coming from work. It is done to try to prevent those who are careless and not taking this seriously.”

But out in San Francisco, they are discussing enforcement of their “shelter in place” order:

The orders for county and city sheriffs and police chiefs to “ensure compliance,” and local authorities said they would not “rush to enforce” the directives as residents adjusted to understand what activities are no longer allowed. Violation of the orders is considered a misdemeanor punishable by a fine or jail time.

Who’s going to be the first American arrested for violating a “shelter in place” order?

Meanwhile, Champlain, Ill., insists it is not planning to ban the sale of firearms or seize property. When a locality enacts an emergency declaration that allows such far-reaching powers, it probably ought to emphasize what it is not going to do when it announces their invocation. And maybe city officials and voters ought to reevaluate those emergency powers once this particular crisis passes.

Tevi Troy in 2016: ‘One Specific Area that Could Stand Improvement Is the Development of Coronavirus Countermeasures.’

A Public Service Announcement: Tevi Troy is a farshtunken oracle and everyone should read everything he writes. This on page 25 of Troy’s book, Shall We Wake the President? Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office, written in 2016:

Government can harm, as well as help, technological development. At the same time that the government is working to develop new technologies, the president needs to keep careful watch to ensure that other arms of the government are not getting in the way of technological progress. The president should have an office under his own purview tasked with removing bureaucratic barriers and identifying liability concerns that threaten effective preparation, and designed to leverage our federal system to pull the best ideas from every part of the nation to ensure our government is equipped and equipping every part of society to anticipate and respond to potential health issues. This office could be in the White House, or in the Office of Management and Budget, but should be within the domain of the executive office of the president. It does our nation little good to have BARDA work with industry to create a new cure, only to have the FDA unnecessarily delay its approval. Too often, different arms of the government work at cross-purposes with one another, creating what could be termed the “pushmi-pullyu” effect, after the Dr. Doolittle creature with two heads going off in different directions.

Once government bureaucracies are at war with each other, it’s very hard to stop them from feuding. In circumstances where thousands of lives could be on the line, the president cannot just shrug his shoulders and grumble about bureaucratic infighting. Presidential leadership is required to make sure that internal policy disagreements do not get in the way of life-saving technological advancements.

One specific area that could stand improvement is the development of coronavirus countermeasures. Both MERS and SARS were worrisome pathogens, and the world lacked the countermeasures to combat them. Fortunately, science has advanced to the point where effective vaccine platforms will typically allow us to develop vaccines for new strains of an existing disease. With respect to flu, for example, we have the ability to develop new vaccines to inoculate against rapidly evolving new strains. With coronaviruses, we do not yet have those platforms. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has started down this path, but we also need HHS’s BARDA to spur private-sector development of a MERS countermeasure. The next president should put this effort on his or her to-do list.

Developing countermeasures is important, but so is taking care of them. A recent Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s report was headlined, “DHS Has Not Effectively Managed Pandemic Personal Protective Equipment and Antiviral Medical Countermeasures.” Somewhat disturbingly, the report found that even though Congress had appropriated finds for DHS to “plan, train, and prepare for a potential pandemic,” the department was not ready to respond appropriately if a pandemic took place. According to the report, DHS had not sufficiently assessed its needs or managed the countermeasures in its own stockpile. The report included eleven specific recommendations that DHS needed to follow. DHS agreed with all eleven recommendations, which indicated there was internal knowledge of the agency’s failings on this front.

The proposed solution to slow-moving, contradictory, and red-tape-laden federal bureaucracy almost always turns out to be more slow-moving, contradictory, and red-tape-laden federal bureaucracy.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to Charlie Cooke for his kind words at the end of the latest episode of The Editors. I’m tempted to make “I always think how sensible he is and how well he sees the world,” the new ringtone on my phone.


The Quarantining of America

An empty French Quarter restaurant is pictured in New Orleans, Louisiana, March 15, 2020. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

On the menu today: trying to keep up with all of the rapid changes in quarantined America, the Democrats hold a debate that feels particularly pointless, and wondering if this crisis represents a symbolic end to globalization.

Welcome to Quarantined America

By now, you probably saw the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s ominous declaration that events with 50 people or more should be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks.

Schools are closed in many parts of the country; in my neck of the woods, school buildings are closed “until further notice” — meaning no going in to get any forgotten books out of your locker. The aim was to reopen after Easter, but . . . that’s obviously a goal, not a certainty. New York City schools will be closed until at least a week later, April 20. Ohio governor Mike DeWine said it was possible that children may not go back to school before autumn.

A lot of teachers are doing extraordinary work right now, trying to set up distance learning and online lessons on the fly. There are a million little questions to be sorted out — do grades count when kids are trying to learn from home? How do you ensure no one is cheating by Googling the answers?

How many kids will be trying to learn in homes where one or both parents are experiencing coronavirus-related economic stress?

What about all those teenagers who were supposed to take the SAT this spring? The spring athletic season is either gone or going to be extremely truncated, the spring musicals and plays won’t happen, there probably won’t be a spring dance or prom . . . how many friendships have to be shifted to entirely online? How many teenagers were thinking of asking someone out before the sudden interruption to our lives? Carpe diem, I suppose.

Some of us might feel a little satisfaction from an interruption to the current regime of standardized testing. But how well will our children be learning in this new system? When we do get the kids back in schools, will they have backslid a bit on their knowledge and skills? Will colleges look at kids’ transcripts, see a dip in grades in 2020, and say, “Ah, yeah, coronavirus, everyone’s performance was off back then”?

In California, Gavin Newsom wants everyone 65 and older, as well as everyone with chronic health conditions, to stay isolated at home. (In normal times, we’re worried about seniors who are isolated and never interact with anyone!)

Quite a few state and city governments are shutting down restaurants and bars. If you’re wondering how or why they have the power to do that, “Every state, the District of Columbia and most territories have laws authorizing quarantine and isolation, usually through the state’s health authority.

How many people were gainfully employed and hardworking, and had a successful business, who now have it effectively shut down by a government decree? When we were discussing a bailout last week, one of the arguments was that if you have a safely operating good or service, and the government suddenly announces no one is allowed to buy it for a certain period of time, aren’t you entitled to compensation from the government? Last week I wrote, “how many companies have a contingency plan in place for ‘what happens if all of Italy shuts down’?” Now we’re asking our nation’s businesses to have a contingency plan in place for America shutting down. Companies may put aside cash reserves for an economic downturn, but almost no business plans for scenarios like this.

Starbucks and Taco Bell announced they’re only doing take-out and delivery.

Putting large swaths of American life on hold is going to be an economic beat-down the likes of which we’ve never seen. The only good news is that once we get through it, we’re going to have a pent-up demand for goods and services that will make up a chunk of the damage. But the owner of a restaurant or coffee shop or shoe store has to get to that point with either no income or minimal income. (I suppose we could see a giant explosion of take-out food orders . . . but that still leaves the bars without their drinkers.)

We’re living through an extraordinary time — a nightmare for some, merely surreal for others. Our kids will be telling their kids about the coronavirus outbreak of spring 2020. (And hopefully no recurrence in the autumn.)

Over on NR’s home page, I make an attempt to sort through it all, and where this is all leading us. I had been thinking about a point made on a video discussing David Lynch’s films, and why he often showcased bloody and violent darkness with cozy, idyllic portraits of small-town American life:

Why does Lynch mix the macabre and the mundane in his art? It’s not to highlight the macabre — it’s to highlight both in order to give us an appreciation for the beauty of the mundane. It’s to find the balance point in any situation, and for Lynch, this makes the macabre beautiful, too. What is the white picket fence on its own? We need to see the creepy crawlies under the surface, and this will give us the contrast we need to appreciate the white picket fence . . .

I think this is the key to Lynch’s love of the 1950s. World War II had just ended, people had just been through hell, so there was a real appreciation for the safe and wholesome, with a pop culture modern audiences would consider to be boring; the darker and more horrific a situation you put someone into, the more beautiful “boring” becomes in contrast.

This kind of frightening, widespread disruption of our lives is probably going to make “ordinary time” — yes, that choice of phrase is deliberate — on the other side seem much sweeter.

But we’ve got a long and difficult road ahead. Come on, vaccine researchers. Come on, herd immunity.

Oh, Hey, There Was a Debate Last Night

The two remaining Democratic presidential candidates held a debate last night. I watch all the presidential primary debates, out of professional obligation, and often feel like I’ve lost several hours of my life that could have been better spent. Many nights over the past year, a crowd full of no-hopers and also-rans exchanged prewritten one-liners and bumper-sticker slogans in 75-second increments for a theater audience that had been conditioned to applaud any sequence of words delivered with sufficient emphasis. “And THAT is why WE will build a MICRO-AGGRESSION-FREE AMERICA in NOVEMBER!”

Last night was different, and arguably much better, in the sense that without the audience, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders didn’t bother trying with the applause lines. The problem was it felt like two old men discussing vacation plans while the house is burning down around them. Neither one has a dramatically different vision for how to deal with this crisis beyond “do more and get the military involved” and “tell Trump to shut up.” A significant portion of the debate focused on Bernie Sanders’s contention that Biden once supported cuts to Social Security. (Many year ago, Biden expressed a vague openness to the idea as part of entitlement reform.) The notion that a President Biden would cut Social Security — with a Democratic House! — seemed about as realistic a threat as an invasion by the Klingon Empire. And once again, it’s not like we are lacking much more pressing threats to America’s seniors in the here and now.

Jay Nordlinger: “Whenever Biden is asked about Bernie’s revolution, he says something like this: ‘We got immediate problems to work out. We’ve got to be practical. You can’t get Bernie’s program passed.’ He never disagrees with it fundamentally. He never says, ‘America is a good country. We already had our revolution. We have the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Let’s keep all that, shall we? And make improvements where we should.’”

It’s a good point. For all of his “Malarkey!”-shouting combativeness, Biden is at heart a dealmaker who wants to build a messy consensus. This means he’s rarely willing to completely smack down a fellow Democrat’s idea.

Dan McLaughlin: “The biggest news that comes out of this debate is that Biden absolutely ruled out a male running mate, which will come as a disappointment to Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg. My own assumption is that Biden, who has spent the bulk of his life in the Senate, will choose a senator, and perhaps this elevates several of those as contenders: Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, or Tammy Duckworth. Biden certainly went out of his way tonight to embrace Warren and her “plans” even on issues such as bankruptcy, on which she was acidly critical of Biden’s own record. Biden also pledged to appoint the first black woman to the Supreme Court.”

The boss: Biden “won the beginning of the debate over the coronavirus and scored points on Bernie’s foolish call for a political revolution and on his reprehensible praise for Communist dictators. Biden is the presumptive nominee largely because he is the acceptable alternative to Bernie, and most Democrats will probably look at tonight and think he will be able to present himself as an acceptable alternative to Trump, too, in the fall.”

Some states are postponing their primaries, to avoid having voters congregating in line at polling places. Within a few minutes of the debate’s conclusion, the CNN anchors had switched focus to the latest news about the coronavirus. The 2020 presidential campaign is more or less on hold, as well.

ADDENDUM: Our old friend Daniel Hannan asks if the coronavirus outbreak represents the end of globalization. I think when we’re on the other side of this, there is going to be a volcanic reaction of rage against the Chinese government for all the ways they botched the early response and tried to hide the severity of the outbreak — and that will mean a lot of countries wanting to cut their economic ties to China.

Health Care

You Cannot Spin a Pandemic. You Can Only Deal with It.

Descending to the subway in Beijing, China, March 10, 2020 (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

This morning arrives: “Hey, I’m Friday the 13th, I’m scary, because bad things happen when I arrive.”

Monday through Thursday respond, “You’ve got a heck of a bar to clear, kid.”

The Morning’s Good News Regarding the Coronavirus

Testing is going to get faster, thanks to smart minds in several important institutions.

One is Roche Holding AG, a Swiss pharmaceutical and diagnostic company:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted an “emergency use authorization” to the test, which runs on Roche’s cobas 6800/8800 systems. The tool also is available in Europe and countries that accept its CE marking for medical devices, Roche said.

The 8800 version is capable of testing 4,128 patients a day, and the 6800 can test as many as 1,440, the Basel, Switzerland-based company said.

“We are increasing the speed definitely by a factor of 10,” Thomas Schinecker, head of Roche’s diagnostics unit, said in an interview.

Another is the Mayo Clinic: 

Mayo Clinic announced Thursday that it has developed a test capable of detecting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Mayo began making the test available to its clinicians on Thursday. In the coming days, the Clinic will begin offering the test to other providers. The Star Tribune reports Mayo’s lab currently has the ability to handle 200-300 tests per day, though that number is expected to grow.

The University of Washington and Amazon:

Amazon Care, the company’s virtual medical clinic for employees, is in talks with local public health organizations about using its logistics expertise to help deliver at-home coronavirus testing kits to people’s homes in the Seattle area.

Specifically, Amazon Care has offered the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation its assistance with a project that aims to provide kits to Seattle residents who suspect they have symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The test kits include nose swabs that can be mailed to the University of Washington for analysis.

The goal is to process thousands of tests per day, and ideally to keep sick people out of doctor’s offices or clinics where they could expose others.

The Cleveland Clinic:

Local hospitals are taking new steps amid coronavirus, including starting their own testing to provide results within hours instead of days.

The Cleveland Clinic announced it began testing patients internally on Thursday.

It has the capacity to test about 500 samples per day and that is expected to double by late next week, according to Chairman of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Dr. Brian Rubin. Capacity could increase with additional equipment and testing automation.

“We didn’t invent a new test,” Rubin said. “We’re using an assay developed by the CDC, but we brought it online locally so we can serve our patients faster. And we will be working around the clock until further notice testing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week here.”

Rubin said the tests provide results in about eight hours, compared with a three to four-day wait for results from outside labs, such as LabCorp.

If a thorny, complicated problem hits Americans, they will respond with ingenuity, innovation, hard work, dedication, and courage.

Well, most Americans. Some will run out and buy as much toilet paper as they can.

The Morning’s Bad News Regarding the Coronavirus

China’s Foreign Ministry has stepped up its public argument that the coronavirus is a U.S.-made bioweapon. This is why it isn’t racist to refer to it as the “Wuhan Virus” or “Chinese Coronavirus.”

When we get through this, there is going to be one hell of a reckoning about our relationship and interaction with China. Scientists and health authorities have been warning about China’s live-bird markets for years — note this article from 2017 — pointing out that they are the perfect petri dish to develop new strains of the flu. “Millions of live birds are still kept, sold and slaughtered in crowded markets each year. In a study published in January, researchers in China concluded that these markets were a ‘main source of H7N9 transmission by way of human-poultry contact and avian-related environmental exposures.’”

Coronavirus isn’t just a public-health issue, it is a national-security issue. China and Iran are among the worst-hit countries, and we simply don’t know much about how North Korea is responding. (The North Korean government claims it has no cases. They certainly don’t have many international travelers.)

At this point, it seems fair to wonder just how stable the Chinese and Iranian governments are.

“This outbreak in Wuhan was covered up. There’s lots of open source reporting from China,” Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Wednesday at the Heritage Foundation. “Doctors involved were either silenced or put in isolation so the word of this virus couldn’t get out. It probably cost the world community two months.”

That is where the intelligence community comes in. The CIA and ODNI have been providing daily coronavirus updates and briefings to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, according to the panels’ respective spokespeople, also focused primarily on whether other countries are truthfully reporting the number of cases to the World Health Organization.

“Operationally, we’re going to task our sources to ask whether the data coming out of China, North Korea, and Iran is accurate because that is really important,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a veteran CIA operations officer who retired in 2019. “So much of what the government does in response to this kind of pandemic depends on the data coming out of these closed societies.”

The article goes on to note, “the official coronavirus statistics released by Iran in recent weeks seem at odds with the number of Iranian government officials who have been infected — with several top officials even dying from the virus.”

Graeme Wood — the guy who wrote that masterful investigative piece on ISIS — has been tracking the discrepancy, and pointing that either the coronavirus just happened to hit prominent government leaders hard, or it is way more widespread than the government is willing to admit:

If COVID-19 is so rare — fewer than 400 cases had been reported in Iran by the day she announced her diagnosis — what are the chances that one of the afflicted would be a famous politician? Soon we learned of three other senior officials who not only contracted the virus but were killed by it: Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a member of a senior advisory council to Iran’s supreme leader, and Hossein Sheikholeslam and Hadi Khosrowshahi, both former high-level diplomats. Mohammad Sadr, another member of the council, announced his infection last week, as did Ebtekar’s fellow cabinet member Reza Rahmani. Recently, the speaker of parliament said 23 of his fellow members of parliament had tested positive. Two of them, Mohammad Ali Ramezani (February 29) and Fatemeh Rehber (March 7), have died.

As of March 8, Iran’s government said it had 6,566 cases. (The updated number this morning, as of this writing, is 10,075.) Wood examines outside virologist estimates ranging from 586,000 to 8 million. (The population of Iran is 81 million.)

Yesterday the Washington Post had a fascinating article with satellite photos indicating Iran is now using mass graves for coronavirus victims.

A senior imagery analyst at Maxar Technologies in Colorado said the size of the trenches and the speed with which they were excavated together mark a clear departure from past burial practices involving individual and family plots at the site. In addition to satellite imagery, videos posted on social media from the cemetery show the extended rows of graves at Behesht-e Masoumeh and say they are meant for coronavirus victims.

Get Off of Twitter until the Coronavirus Crisis Passes, Mr. President

Finally, President Trump really needs to put aside his reflexive favorite statementsI am the greatest, that good thing that happened was because of me, it’s not my fault, Trust me, my critics are terrible people, etc., — and just work the problem of coronavirus. So far, in the past day on Twitter, Trump has ripped the Centers for Disease Control’s preparedness, called the Obama response to swine flu a disaster, declared “Sleepy Joe Biden was in charge of the H1N1 Swine Flu epidemic which killed thousands of people,” and kept to his usual tone.

Just work the problem, Mr. President. The American people don’t care about what happened with swine flu in 2009. They’re worried about the here and now. They’re worried about whether they or their loved ones will get sick, whether the hospitals will have the room and equipment needed to treat them, and how many Americans will die.

From the first reports of this crisis, the president’s statements have suggested he simply did not grasp the severity of the problem. On January 24, Trump tweeted, “it will all work out well.” On February 26, he said, “Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low. . . . When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” (As of this writing, the United States has 1,701 cases.) March 9, he tweeted, “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!” Two days later, Anthony Fauci declared that the coronavirus was “10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu.”

You cannot spin a pandemic. You can only deal with it.

ADDENDUM: A laugh amidst our grim moment: Life just keeps giving us new warnings about how dangerous it is to travel with Tom Hanks.

Judging from Hanks’s Instagram, he and Rita Wilson are dealing with quarantine pretty well: “We are taking it one-day-at-a-time. There are things we can all do to get through this by following the advice of experts and taking care of ourselves and each other, no? Remember, despite all the current events, there is no crying in baseball.”

Health Care

Last Night Was a Long Year

A man wearing a protective face mask walks through Waterloo station in London, Britain, March 10 2020. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

How are you doing this morning? Take a deep breath. We’ll get through this, step by step, one day at a time.

There was a stretch last night, in less than an hour or so, where President Trump announced we were barring travel to and from Europe starting Friday; Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced they were infected; Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington announced a staffer in her office was infected; right before the tip-off of a basketball game between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, the players returned to the locker room with little explanation, and then the National Basketball Association announced that the season was being suspended until further notice.

Last night was a long year.

The Storm Arrives

Our leaders, at every level of government, have to make some difficult choices in the days ahead.

Yesterday on The Editors podcast, Michael Brendan Dougherty discussed his recommendation to the superintendent of his children’s schools in Westchester County that the school system close. (There are, as of yesterday afternoon, 121 cases in Westchester County.)

“Right now in New York, the guideline is, ‘close the school once a teacher or student is infected.’” MBD pointed out that because many people can be asymptomatic for days, closing a school once someone tests positive means it’s too late. There’s a good chance they’ve been walking around spreading it for several days.

It’s a good point. But if that’s too late, when’s the right time?

According to the CDC, as of yesterday, 38 states and the District of Columbia have cases of coronavirus. If there hasn’t been a case in a state, it probably doesn’t make that much sense to close schools there. There have been 33 cases in Texas, mostly in Dallas and Houston; it may not make much sense to close the schools in, say, Abilene if the closest cases are 180 miles away. In my neck of the woods, Fairfax County is currently preparing two courses of action — closing one particular school deemed at risk, and then closing schools county-wide.

Then again, we’re trying to account for a lot of unknowns in this decision. We have the number of officially reported cases and deaths but . . . how many people are walking around asymptomatically?

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who was commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration from 2017 to 2019, wrote this morning that at this moment, “we follow a path similar to South Korea or one closer to Italy. We probably lost the chance to have an outcome like South Korea. We must do everything to avert the tragic suffering being borne by Italy. While testing capacity expands its not evenly distributed to places most needed, we’re far behind current caseloads. Too many people still can’t get screened. So we can’t identify clusters and isolate disease. In some respects, our fate rests on the entities that are capable of sharply ramping testing and distributing the services nationally. Academic labs can serve their institutions. Only big national clinical labs like LabCorp and Quest can fill the void. A lot rides on them now.”

With Saint Patrick’s Day parades canceled, the NBA season suspended, members of Congress closing their offices, the NCAA Tournament preparing for no fans to be in the stands, and a decision coming soon on Broadway . . . maybe the best option is to go for the most extensive quarantine possible for two weeks, take the economic hit (which will be bad) and then open up afterwards, hoping that slowed down the rate of growth enough for our hospitals to handle the load.

A critic at New York magazine made the argument that as extreme as it sounds, maybe the best way to ensure New York City doesn’t go the route of Italy is a really far-reaching shutdown of public spaces:

It’s time to close. Opera, theater, movies, clubs, bars—these places of leisure are vectors for accelerating the spread of a disease that takes advantage of the human instinct to get on with life no matter what. Going out for the evening often means jamming bodies together at rush-hour levels of intimacy. We jostle for a drink at the bar, wait on packed lines, dance in wriggling masses, navigate claustrophobic lobbies, and sit for hours with strangers breathing down our necks. (And don’t even think about the bathrooms.) A visiting Martian might conclude that the whole point of live entertainment was group physical contact…

. . . It’s difficult to imagine New York without its nightlife, even for a month or two, and especially at a time when the need for distraction is sharpest. That’s precisely why the decision to stifle it is so agonizing to contemplate. So far, decisions about social distancing have been left up to individuals. If you’re sick, stay home. If you’re feeling fine, knock yourself out. But each of us has a different attitude toward risk and civic responsibility, or what “sick” even means. I shouldn’t have to trust that my seatmate’s cough is the result of seasonal allergies. The frail music lover struggling toward her seat, pain be damned, shouldn’t have to wonder whether the performance will be worth exposure to a bug that could kill her in a couple of weeks.

It’s also not fair or sensible to leave decisions up to institutions and presenters whose business agendas run directly counter to sound public health. If they shut down preemptively, they have to take the hit. If they are forced to close by government edict, they can at least start haggling with their insurers.

The optimistic scenario is that cases such as Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert, and the Cantwell staffer suggest that many of us have encountered the coronavirus through casual contact already. If we’ve got it, and haven’t shown any symptoms worse than a cold, we’re probably going to pull through okay. At some point, the virus stops encountering paths to new uninfected bodies.

The pessimistic scenario is that that we’re still in the early stages of how the virus spreads through a country, and that our reluctance to go into intense, economically destructive quarantines means that we won’t “flatten the curve” enough. The trillion-dollar question is whether we keep the number of serious cases in the United States below the 65,000 or so ICU beds we have. Doctors say we can double that in an emergency.

(One other note to add to the discussion of ICU beds: As of 2018, the U.S. military has 26 military treatment facilities with 300 to 400 ICU beds. As of 2004, the Department of Veterans Affairs has another 2,000 or so in VA hospitals.)

The President Addresses the Nation

Whatever you think of the president’s delivery or the policies announced in last night’s prime-time address to the nation, there’s the initial problem that spokesmen for government agencies and the private sector said shortly afterwards that the policy changes the president announced were not the policy changes they are enacting.

One: The president said, “To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight.” He added, “there will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings,” which doesn’t mesh with the preceding statement of suspending all travel.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the order “suspends the entry of most foreign nationals who have been in certain European countries at any point during the 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States. These countries include Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.” Returning U.S. passengers — U.S. citizens, their family members, legal permanent residents, and “certain other individuals” — who have traveled in parts of Europe must “travel through select airports where the U.S. Government has implemented enhanced screening procedures.” Those airports have not yet been announced. The policy goes into effect Friday.

Two: The president also said, “these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval.” About an hour after the speech, the president turned to Twitter and declared, “trade will in no way be affected by the 30-day restriction on travel from Europe. The restriction stops people not goods.”

Three: Trump stated, “earlier this week, I met with the leaders of health-insurance industry who have agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments, extend insurance coverage to these treatments, and to prevent surprise medical billing.” A spokesperson for the industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans said the president was not correct. “For testing. Not for treatment.”

It is very bad if a president’s address to the nation does not accurately describe the policies being enacted. The president’s staff is failing him right now.

The president’s address can be seen here, with about 30 seconds lead-in. At 1:27 and 3:30, he pauses to catch his breath. Considering the presence of Representative Matt Gaetz on Air Force One after his exposure to a coronavirus patient at CPAC, I hope the president has been tested, out of an abundance of caution.

We have enough problems on our plate without the president getting sick. Perhaps it’s just the stress of the crisis, or allergies, or the sniffles. Let’s test him just to make sure.

ADDENDUM: I realize it’s easier, and maybe something of a psychological relief, to argue about whether it’s racist or xenophobic to call it the “Wuhan virus’ or “Chinese coronavirus’ or some variation of that label. I would note that we have much bigger problems right now about whether someone feels that those labels are offensive. You would think a global pandemic and the prospects of a serious threat to America’s elderly and immunocompromised would get people to put woke virtue-signaling on the back burner, but apparently this country is not capable of that . . .

. . . yet. Italians aren’t having these arguments right now.


A Pep Talk for America

(Chasethesonphotography/Getty Images)

On the menu today: a pep talk as America enters scary times in the era of coronavirus, why there isn’t a “moral hazard” factor in the discussions about helping businesses right now, what the coronavirus illuminates about illegal immigration, and the Sanders socialist revolution “berns” out.

We Will Get Through the Coronavirus. We Get Through Most Everything.

We’re living through history. Italy’s more or less locked down completely, colleges are moving the rest of the semester online, candidates are canceling political rallies, schools are closing for several weeks around the world, Washington State is enacting prohibitions on large gatherings, and the NCAA is contemplating March Madness with no fans in the stands.

This is a scary time. But we’ve lived through scary times before.

Heck, the Great Recession was only twelve years ago — or ten or eleven, depending on how you define its endpoint. It seemed like every time you turned around, some other company was going under, and there were tons of empty storefronts and foreclosed houses. One study concluded the recession killed 170,000 small businesses; another put the figure at more than 200,000. The United States has 138.4 million jobs in January 2008; we didn’t get back to that number until May 2014.

Most of you are old enough to remember 9/11 and the weeks and months afterwards. The attacks were bad enough, but then we had some lunatic sending anthrax through the mail. An American Airlines flight crashing right after takeoff from JFK, making us all believe the terrorists had struck again. The shoe bomber trying to blow up another one. Sure, coronavirus is scary, but it’s a virus — it spreads more or less though random chance and behavioral patterns. Al-Qaeda was trying to kill as many of us as possible.

A little before my time was America’s explosion of domestic radical terrorism. Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence is the most complete history of the political violence perpetrated by groups such as the Weathermen, the Symbionese Liberation Army, FALN, and the Black Liberation Army. Early on, Burrough quotes retired FBI agent Max Noel: “People have completely forgotten that in 1972, we had over 1900 domestic bombings in the United States. People don’t want to listen to that. They can’t believe it. One bombing now and everyone gets excited. In 1972? It was every day. Buildings getting bombed, policemen getting killed. It was commonplace.”

We’ll get though this, just as we’ve gotten through everything else before. In a few years, we’ll look back and say, “Remember the spring of 2020 with the coronavirus? Man, that was crazy. ‘Getting canceled’ stopped being a woke metaphor.”

The task before us is daunting but achievable. The United States has 52 million citizens above age 65, and according to the CDC, 21.7 percent of those people are in “fair or poor health.” We’ve got anywhere between 10 million and, say, 15 million Americans who are immunocompromised. There is some overlap between those groups. Let’s say we have 25 to 27 million Americans who are particularly at risk from serious health problems from coronavirus.

As Brian Williams and Mara Gay recently illuminated for us, America has 327 million people. That means that the 300 million of us who at lower risk for serious health problems from coronavirus have to figure out a way to protect the other 25 million or so. This isn’t just a crisis, it’s a mission.

You know the basic steps already: aggressive personal hygiene — wash those hands like Lady Macbeth. “Social distancing.” Conferences can be postponed and rescheduled, but people are irreplaceable. Watching an NCAA Tournament or NHL and NBA game without crowds of fans would be really odd, but we could get through it. We’ll figure out how to deal with the economic repercussions as we go. (More on that below.)

As sad as it is, I’m glad the leaders of the nursing-home industry are recommending a suspension of social visits. Call your grandmothers and grandfathers, email them, Skype them. If the authorities think the risk of virus transmission from deliveries are safe, send them care packages from Amazon. Let them know you care, but for now, those of us who could be asymptomatic carriers need to keep our physical distance.

Yesterday Tom Bossert, who served as homeland security adviser to President Trump from 2017 to 2018, wrote a rather frightening op-ed that suggested America’s schools should close for about two months:

Working parents without child care have a legitimate concern, and we must find ways to help one another. But school closings can be the single most effective intervention. Amid an influenza pandemic, schools would be closed to protect the students themselves. Because children are not among the groups most vulnerable to coronavirus, schools should be closed in an effort to reduce community transmission and to protect the children’s parents and grandparents. How long? Epidemiologists suggest eight weeks might be needed to arrest this outbreak.

That’s frightening, and I’m not sure closing schools nationally makes sense in every community. But Bossert’s argument also suggests that by the first week of May, we can begin going “back to normal.” Eight weeks from now, the initial wave of cases will have been treated and we will know whether we “kept the curve low.” The United States is in better shape with ICU units than just about any other country.

We don’t know if someone who has had coronavirus and recovered can catch it a second time; the cases in Asia that appear to be reinfection might be someone who never got rid of it and the symptoms flared up a second time. If this is the kind of virus that you can’t catch twice — your body’s white blood cells figure out how to kill off the invading viruses quickly — then we will start to see “herd immunity” — the virus stops spreading because too many people have built up an immunity to it.

Also, warm weather might help a little bit. We shouldn’t overstate it — Covid-19 is a new form of the coronavirus — but some viruses don’t spread as much in different temperatures.

We will get through this with some common sense, some good judgment, sensible precautions, and bearable sacrifices. The best thing about facing a challenge in America is that the vast majority of Americans will rise to any challenge. If you work in the health-care industry, this is your D-Day invasion. As for the rest of us, let’s not forget to take care of our caretakers. Gift baskets, gift cards, maybe Figs for apparel or something.

How Can We Best Help Businesses Getting Hit by the Coronavirus?

One of the big reasons many people didn’t like the bailouts of 2008 was the sense of “moral hazard.” Banks and Wall Street had made reckless decisions by offering mortgages to people who were extremely unlikely to be able to keep making payments, made complicated financial instruments based upon those mortgages, pumped up a housing bubble, and when it burst, asked the taxpayers to save them from the consequences of their own bad decisions.

(Keep in mind, the federal government made $75 billion in profit when all was said and done with the bailouts. Many of the bailouts came in the form of stock purchases, and the government later sold the shares at a profit. The one glaring exception was the bailout of General Motors, where the taxpayers lost $11.3 billion.)

We can decide what form of assistance to coronavirus-affected industries make the most sense. Similar low-interest loans or stock purchases might work best.

But there’s no moral hazard at work in this situation. The airlines, hotels, resorts, tourist attractions, and cruise lines didn’t behave recklessly or foolishly. They operated their businesses, safely and professionally, and then this horrific virus came out of China. You might argue that these companies should have planned for downturns or slow periods, but . . . how many companies have a contingency plan in place for “what happens if all of Italy shuts down”? The federal government is now urging vulnerable populations not to go onto cruise ships or fly.

There seems to be this idea that airlines, hotels, resorts, tourist attractions, and cruise lines don’t deserve assistance from taxpayers because they’re proportionally used by rich people. But who do you think works for those companies and industries? By and large, American tourism industry workers aren’t rich! Tourism and hospitality industries combined are the fifth-largest employer in the country, around 15 million Americans.

What the Coronavirus Illuminates about Illegal Immigration

You’ve seen the president and his supporters arguing that the coronavirus is even more evidence supporting the case for a border wall.

As far as we know, everyone who brought coronavirus into the United States flew into the country — mostly U.S. citizens returning from overseas trips. If we had the currently proposed border fencing fully completed — or even an American version of the Great Wall of China from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean — it wouldn’t have changed much of anything regarding this coronavirus outbreak.

But with that said, the coronavirus outbreak does illustrate why the government should attempt to stop people from entering the country without permission. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are doing screening of passengers from particular countries in America’s airports — although probably not enough countries. When someone enters the country legally, the government gets records of their residence or where they’re staying, which countries they originated from and previously visited, etcetera — all kinds of information that is useful in tracking the spread of a contagious infectious disease. When someone sneaks across the border illegally, the government gets none of that information.

As we are seeing, controlling a contagion is difficult enough when those infected are entering legally. When people are crossing borders illegally and interacting with populations without knowing they’re infected, tracking the spread and identifying the contagious carriers is impossible. Quarantines are impossible if infected people do not stay away from those who are not infected; at the heart of a quarantine is an instruction or order from an authority figure that declares, “For the safety of others, you must stay in this area, you may not cross this line.” Every illegal border entry is a response, “I don’t care what you say, I am going to do what I want to do, regardless of the consequences for others.”

ADDENDUM: Over on the home page: “A movement of young voters, very liberal voters, and Latinos can take a candidate pretty far in a Democratic primary; just not far enough . . . The back-to-back close-but-no-cigar campaigns by Sanders illuminate a thorny problem for Democrats: The party probably can’t win in 2020 with Sanders atop the ticket, but they can’t win without Sanders voters, either.”

Health Care

Yes, Coronavirus Is Worse Than the Flu

South Korean soldiers in protective gears sanitize shacks at Guryong village in Seoul, South Korea, March 3, 2020. (Heo Ran/Reuters)

On the menu today: how the coronavirus is both more deadly and more contagious than the seasonal flu, wondering about the track record of “old warhorse” presidential candidates, and Mike Bloomberg breaks some more promises.

Why We Fear the Coronavirus More Than the Seasonal Flu

“There have only been [insert current number here] coronavirus cases, way fewer cases and deaths than the flu!”

As mentioned a few days ago, the term “going viral” means something that “spreads rapidly through a population by being frequently shared with a number of individuals.” This means numbers don’t grow steadily and gradually. They grow quickly and exponentially.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the coronavirus primarily spreads when someone coughs or sneezes and the droplets get on someone else. The secondary way of spreading is by touching contaminated surfaces or objects.

There is some research from Chinese epidemiologists indicating that the virus may spread much easier than originally thought:

The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 can linger in the air for at least 30 minutes and travel up to 4.5 metres – further than the “safe distance” advised by health authorities around the world, according to a study by a team of Chinese government epidemiologists.

The researchers also found that it can last for days on a surface where respiratory droplets land, raising the risk of transmission if unsuspecting people touch it and then rub their face.

The length of time it lasts on the surface depends on factors such as temperature and the type of surface, for example at around 37C (98F), it can survive for two to three days on glass, fabric, metal, plastic or paper.

This research is fascinating and ominous. On January 22, an infected passenger boarded a fully booked long-distance coach and settled down on the second row from the back. He stayed on the bus for four hours and the windows remained closed. Reviewing security camera footage, the researchers found the passenger did not interact with anyone else. The person next to him was not infected, but he did infect two people behind him, one person three rows ahead of him, four people who were six to seven rows ahead of him, and one person who got on the bus after the initial passenger disembarked.

Scientists are still getting a handle on how contagious the coronavirus is, but the current estimate of the R0 (reproduction number) is between 2 and 2.5 — meaning that the average infected person spreads it to two or two-and-a-half people. For the seasonal flu, the R0 is about 1.3 people.

Coronavirus cases in the United States and broader world are not going to stay level; they may eventually level off, but we are probably a ways away from anything resembling “herd immunity” — that is, when a significant enough portion of a population is immune to a disease, making it more difficult for a disease to spread. In the absence of dramatic steps to reduce people’s interaction with each other, the number of cases will continue to increase.

Scientists are still calculating the death rate from the coronavirus, and the death rate is probably going to continue to vary from country to country depending upon the country’s quality of medical care and preparedness. But it is already clear that the coronavirus is much more deadly than the usual seasonal flu.

The CDC’s current estimate of the death rate for the flu in the 2018–2019 flu season is 35.5 million cases, and about 34,000 deaths. That is a death rate just shy of 0.1 percent, or one out of every 1,044 people.

Many doctors and public-health officials strongly suspect that there are a lot of Americans walking around who have already caught the coronavirus and are asymptomatic — and they either will not show symptoms, or they will suffer such mild symptoms that they won’t even realize they have it. As of this writing, the United States has 729 cases and 26 deaths. That comes out to a 3.5 percent death rate. That’s 35 out of 1,000 people.

Because there are people walking around who have it and who aren’t tested, it is possible that when all is said and done, the U.S. death rate will be significantly lower. But any way you slice it, the death rate for the coronavirus is significantly higher than the death rate for the seasonal flu. And with both coronavirus and seasonal flu, those most at risk are the elderly and the immunocompromised.

There is an odd tone to some of the commentary around the virus. Ann Coulter declares, “Average age of the coronavirus dead in Italy (the country they’re using to scare Americans since it’s European): 81.

What the hell is this, Logan’s Run? I guess your perspective on the coronavirus being particularly dangerous to octogenarians depends upon how many people you know who are in their eighties or approaching it. We’ve got about 13 million Americans over age 80. About 1.5 million Floridians are in their eighties. Sure, a death toll among the elderly, who have hopefully lived full lives, is somewhat less tragic than a virus that cuts people down in their prime or children. But that doesn’t make it any less sad or worth attempting to prevent or mitigate. A virus that has even a 2 percent death toll among elderly Americans is going to mean a lot of funerals.

But wait, there’s another factor to take into account. It is surprisingly difficult to get a reliable and recent figure for the number of Americans who are immunodeficient, immunocompromised, or otherwise have immune systems that wouldn’t be able to fight off the coronavirus. A 2008 estimate puts it at ten million Americans — and that’s only counting those with HIV/AIDS (diagnosed and undiagnosed), organ transplant recipients, and cancer patients.

Secondly, the elderly and immunocompromised who are infected but survive are going to use up a lot of beds and time in intensive care units, and that will have far-reaching effects for those who are well under age 80. As Christopher Mims puts it, “If we don’t collectively slow the rate of spread of this virus, what he called suppression, it endangers everyone else because of the capacity crunch: People who need surgery. People who have accidents. Cancer patients. Everyone who would normally use our healthcare system.” Every resource put towards controlling coronavirus is a resource that can’t be used towards other health problems.

Some good news is that South Korean health officials have found that so far, “only about 10 percent of coronavirus patients required hospitalization, while the rest had strong enough immune systems to fight the virus on their own.

When people ask, “Why isn’t there this kind of panic over the seasonal flu?” the answer is, “Because the coronavirus is both more deadly and more contagious than the seasonal flu.” As noted above, the death rate for the seasonal flu is one in a thousand; the current coronavirus figure is roughly 35 in a thousand. Even if that’s elevated because we’re not testing enough, if the figure is cut in half, you’re at 17 in a thousand — or nearly one out of every fifty.

For what it’s worth, the death rate in Italy is currently at 5 percent — one in 20!

Italy is more or less in lockdown. Japan is preparing steps to instruct residents to remain indoors. Major countries do not shut down their populations because of media hype or a desire to make the American president look bad.

This is why we have to “flatten the curve.” We — ordinary citizens — have to take those basic steps of washing hands frequently and avoiding big gatherings, to reduce the rate of increase in cases, delay the peak of cases, and ensure that the hospital systems don’t get overwhelmed.

The number of people who are currently insisting that preparedness is panic is amazing. None of us want a public-health disaster, but part of being responsible is being ready for the worst-case scenarios and taking action to ensure the worst-case scenarios don’t come to pass. We have a lot of mayors of Amity and Chip Dillers among us.

If You Need to Beat an Incumbent, Is an ‘Old War Horse’ Candidate the Best Choice?

An astute observation from Dan McLaughlin: “Parties looking to unseat an incumbent have settled before on Biden-style “old warhorse” candidates, and lost. John Kerry in 2004, Bob Dole in 1996, and Walter Mondale in 1984 are the classic examples of this type of campaign. Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and Tom Dewey in 1948 were rerun candidates who lost to an incumbent, as was Bryan in 1900. John McCain in 2008 and Hubert Humphrey in 1968 were both old warhorses who failed to hold the White House a third time for their parties. The most encouraging parallels for Biden in modern elections would be the two former vice presidents to win the big job: George H. W. Bush in 1988 and Richard Nixon in 1968. The 1988 election, however, was a choice for continuity.”

Yesterday I noticed that Biden campaign sources were mentioning both Senator Elizabeth Warren and Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, as a potential Treasury Secretary. Those two don’t agree on much in economic policy. The fact that Biden could conceivably pick either suggests his economic policies are currently something of a blank slate, to be decided, or at least forged in greater detail, later.

The nomination of Biden represents the Democrats preferring to not have to choose a particular ideological or policy path.

Bloomberg: Hey, Never Mind about Those Guarantees I Made

Mike Bloomberg may never be president, but he can break promises like one: “Mike Bloomberg’s shuttered presidential campaign is dismissing staffers across the country and inviting them to reapply for jobs on his new independent committee — despite extending guarantees of being paid through the November election when they were hired. The consolation prize: They get to keep their Bloomberg-issued iPhones and MacBooks.”

This is not surprising — Bloomberg just wasn’t going to need all of these people for his post-campaign “Elect the Democrat” effort. Judging from their own stories about their work ethic, he was wasting his money on them anyway.

ADDENDUM: Yesterday I chatted about coronavirus, the giant stock market drop, and the state of the presidential race with Brady Leonard.

Health Care

Preparing for the Coronavirus Disruption

Iraqi medical staff check passengers arriving from Iran at Najaf Airport, Iraq, March 5, 2020. (Alaa al-Marjani/Reuters)

No matter our politics, no matter our race, creed, or color, it is at moments such as this that everything that divides us falls away, and we realize what unites every last one of us as human beings: None of us can stop touching our face.

On the menu today: why we need to take bigger steps now to avoid worse outcomes down the road, why we may need to embrace bailouts for coronavirus-affected industries, the not-quite-reassuring situation at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, New Hampshire’s political leaders insist it’s diverse enough to keep voting early in the presidential nominating process, and some much-needed fun with pop culture.

It’s Time for Precautionary Measures to Go Viral, Too

Every time I write about medical issues, I try to preface it with the disclaimer that I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV.

That said, it’s probably time for everyone to start preparing for coronavirus to be extremely disruptive. By the time you get this, the markets will probably have started another brutal day, with stocks plummeting and oil prices tumbling fast. (The short explanation: Besides the coronavirus shutting down various industries and supply chains, OPEC and Russia are in a price war and slashing prices, as demand falls because of fewer people flying on planes, coronavirus quarantines, etc. This could be good news for consumers of oil, but this is going to be terrible for any country with an oil-based economy.)

The more resources and steps we throw at this problem early in the process, the better off we will be down the road. If you are among those higher-risk populations (elderly, preexisting health problems, compromised immune systems), you should be limiting your exposure to large crowds. If you’re not sure if you’re in that higher-risk group, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, “people with underlying conditions such as heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and other conditions that cause suppression of immune system particularly among the older adults, are at a high risk of serious disease if infected with the novel coronavirus.” The CDC is recommending people in these groups stock up on supplies, take everyday precautions (wash your hands often, try to avoid touching surfaces in public places), and avoid crowds. This means canceling or postponing those travel plans.

The CDC now recommends travelers, particularly those with underlying health issues, defer all cruise-ship travel worldwide. “Older adults and travelers with underlying health issues should avoid situations that put them at increased risk for more severe disease. This entails avoiding crowded places, avoiding non-essential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships.”

It is a near-ironclad law of human nature that some people will not follow the directions of quarantine. Just this morning, in the St. Louis area, they’re dealing with two family members of a person infected with the coronavirus that attended a school dance and party at another house. There is a report that in Japan, a man dealt with the news of his infection by going to local bars and trying to spread it as widely as possible.

The good news is that there are probably plenty of Americans who are asymptomatic, and who are going to not even realize that they have the coronavirus, and simply think they have a cold. The bad news is that these people are still contagious. Even if you’re not in a higher-risk category, you could end up spreading the coronavirus to someone who is.

The United States has 52 million citizens above age 65, and according to the CDC, 21.7 percent of those people are in “fair or poor health.” That gives us about 11 million people who we really need to keep away from coronavirus exposure.

Assume we can prevent half of this population from being exposed and keep the fatality rate to 2 percent. That still adds up to 130,000 fatalities. That’s two to four times the death toll from recent flu seasons. The good news is that because we have generally excellent health-care facilities in this country, many will pull through — but they’re still looking at lengthy stays in intensive care units. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans will need to be hospitalized in an ICU, but estimates range from 200,000 to 2.9 million. The United States has “about 46,500 medical ICU beds in the United States and perhaps an equal number of other ICU beds that could be used in a crisis.”

You can see the problem, right? Once the ICU beds fill up, the prospects for the rest of the high-risk population who get infected get a lot worse. Whether or not people die depends upon whether or not they get exposed. Those of us who are not in high-risk categories have a responsibility to ensure we don’t accidentally spread it to those who are in high-risk categories. The “average American” is indeed going to be fine. But just about every “average American” cares about at least one person — a parent, grandparent, friend, neighbor — who is at higher risk.

We would be better off if everyone recognized we were in for a big fight. Allow your employees to telecommute if possible. Assure your employees that they can take as many days as necessary if they are asked to self-quarantine. (One university said that after using their maximum three sick days per semester, any infected or quarantined employee had to use other vacation and leave days. As one Twitter respondent put it, university employees with coronavirus should demand a face-to-face meeting with the university president and work out the issue with a handshake deal.) We’re probably going to see a lot more canceled big gatherings such as SXSW. It stinks, but it’s a small price to pay in a situation where lives are at stake.

(I wonder if the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meeting will go ahead as planned.)

I hated the concept of the 2008 bailouts, because it represented the taxpayers saving financial institutions and General Motors from the consequences of their own bad decisions. But the coronavirus isn’t anyone’s fault (other than maybe the Chinese government for initially underreacting and being so secretive about it). Our government throws money around like it’s nothing; saving cruise lines and airlines and hotels and other tourism-based businesses from going under and causing mass layoffs sounds like a much more justifiable argument. There’s no moral hazard here.

You’re going to hear a lot of commentary that will attempt to shoehorn every development in the fight against coronavirus into a “Trump is terrible” or “Trump is awesome” narrative. While there are plenty of bones to pick with the way the administration is handling the coronavirus — see Rich or Michael Brendan Dougherty — other countries with different leaders are experiencing the same kind of exponential increase in cases. There is no button in the White House that says “stop the spread of coronavirus” that Trump has failed to press.

For Once, Everyone’s Hoping It’s Just the ‘CPAC Crud’

As of this writing, CPAC is not releasing the name of the conference attendee who tested positive for coronavirus. The person is being treated in New Jersey.

Apparently CPAC chose to notify Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Paul Gosar that they had contact with the infected person, and those two lawmakers have now declared they are self-quarantining. (Apparently it is important for members of Congress to know they interacted with an infected attendee, but not anyone else who attended the conference.)

Close to 20,000 people attend CPAC each year, and a lot of people shake hands upon meeting. Maryland governor Larry Hogan declared in a released statement, “Due to the scale of this conference, we are urging attendees who are experiencing flu-like symptoms to immediately reach out to their health care provider.” One other wrinkle is that every year attendees at CPAC often come home with what’s nicknamed “the CPAC crud,” the usual colds and other viruses that get passed around at a big gathering. A lot of people may wonder if their post-convention illness is just a regular cold or something worse.

Here’s the thing: It’s possible this person didn’t spread the coronavirus around very much. The question is, did he cough into his hand and then press an elevator button, or touch a stairway handrail, or press buttons on an ATM keyboard . . . you get the idea.

New Hampshire Is Going to Insist It’s Representative Enough to Keep Going Second

Over in the Manchester Union Leader, New Hampshire political leaders insist that their state being almost entirely white has no significant ramifications for the presidential primaries. Right, right, I’m sure the lack of African Americans in the state had nothing to do with Joe Biden finishing fifth in the Granite State and then going on to roar back to front-runner status. The issue is not, as a former state GOP chair put it, “the notion is that everyone votes only for their own demographic.” As you probably noticed, Joe Biden is white. The issue is that the kind of people who live in New Hampshire are more inclined to support certain kinds of candidates — and those kinds of candidates aren’t as popular in most of the other states.

New Hampshire is 93 percent white, and the state’s residents are way more likely than the average American to be nonreligious, more supportive of abortion, more supportive of same-sex marriage, and more supportive of environmental regulations. If you don’t think that affects which candidate succeeds in that state’s primary, you’re fooling yourself.

ADDENDUM: Mickey and I finally found time to tape an episode of the pop-culture podcast, taking a look at whether the coronavirus is going to make people reluctant to go to movie theaters; the Disney+ film Timmy Failure and what happens when a book’s adaptation into a film goes in an unexpected new direction; the Netflix reality show that lots of people are talking about, Love is Blind; and all the ways that people can create online personas and the disturbing ramifications of that.


Basic Math Is Important, Guys

Mike Bloomberg appears before supporters after ending his campaign for president in New York City, March 4, 2020. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Today’s a rare day when I implore you to read to the end, for a whole bunch of reasons. We’ve got ominous news at a U.S. embassy overseas; a funny yet frighteningly revealing moment about how America’s progressive class thinks about numbers and mathematics; Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and the giant; painful ongoing lesson about when to compromise in politics; and a way to metaphorically spend time with some very special people.

The Islamist Terror Groups Aren’t Dead Yet

A terrorist attack upon a U.S. embassy in the Middle East:

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up near the United States Embassy in Tunis on Friday, injuring five police officers and one civilian, according to officials . . .

The Tunisian Interior Ministry said in a statement that two men had approached a security patrol across the street from the embassy and detonated explosives around 11 a.m. local time. No group had yet claimed responsibility.

As of this writing, there is no indication of U.S. casualties. This could have been worse, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t bad. Islamist terror groups have taken it on the chin in recent years; the fact that they’re able to launch an attack such as this suggests that they still have some life in them and a capacity to at least attempt to kill Americans overseas.

No, Really, Prominent People on the Left Cannot Do Basic Math

This is pretty astounding. Both Brian Williams and his guest Mara Gay seem to believe that if you split the $500 million that Mike Bloomberg spent on television advertising among 327 million Americans, every American would receive a million dollars. This isn’t an offhand, doing-the-math-in-their head comment; they do a whole segment around this argument.

Five hundred million dollars, divided by 327 million people, comes out to roughly $1.52. To make everyone in America a millionaire, you would need $320 trillion (with a “tr”). The total world gross domestic product — that means the total value of every good and service generated by every human being on the planet for an entire year — is about $92 trillion.

Meaning for the statement of Williams and Gay to be true, Bloomberg would have to spend the value of absolutely everything created, built, grown, mined, assembled, programmed, served, constructed, printed, drilled, and pumped, everywhere on the planet, since late 2016. As Frank J. observes, “No wonder so many idiots rant about billionaires; they basically think they have magic superpowers.

Charlie makes a really good point, that innumeracy is at the core of the worldview of the Democratic Party and progressives. The moment you comprehend the scale of these numbers, the more you realize what they’re proposing cannot work — at least not the way they claim it will:

This, right here, is why so many left-leaning Americans think that “the billionaires” can pay for everything. It’s why Elizabeth Warren was enthusiastically boosted by the media despite her ridiculous pretense that she could pay for a series of gargantuan initiatives without raising taxes on anyone but the extremely rich. It’s why Democrat after Democrat promises not to raise “middle class taxes” while promising programs that require the raising of middle-class taxes. How did this bad tweet make it onto TV to be endorsed? Why did Mara Gay agree with it? Why didn’t Brian Williams notice? Because the people involved in this clip thought it was true. This is how they see the world.

The current edition of the Republican Party is no better.

The Deadly Art of Not Compromising

Donald Trump is a more compromising person than his persona suggests. Trump used to describe himself as “very pro-choice.” Running for the Republican nomination, he told a story of how he had been converted to the pro-life cause: “What happened is friends of mine, years ago, were going to have a child, and it was going to be aborted. And it wasn’t aborted. And that child today is a total superstar, a great, great child.” You may or may not find his story believable. But he pledged to support the pro-life causes, and the selection of Mike Pence reassured many pro-lifers, and as Ramesh observes, “since becoming president, Trump has done nearly everything that the pro-life movement has asked of him.

In his heart of hearts, does Trump really believe that life begins at conception, or at some point before birth? It almost doesn’t matter. Trump makes the decisions that a pro-life president would make; ergo, he is a pro-life president.

It’s a similar story with the National Rifle Association and gun owners, and the Federalist Society and the conservative legal community. Whatever Trump used to believe, he figured out that support from these groups could make or break his candidacy and presidency. Whatever else he did, he couldn’t betray or disappoint these factions of the GOP. If Trump had declared he was still pro-choice and pro-gun control, he would not have won the nomination or presidency.

After the Nevada caucus, Bernie Sanders was in the driver’s seat in the Democratic presidential primary. Sanders won 26.3 percent in Iowa (first in votes, second in delegates) 25.6 percent in New Hampshire (first place), and 40.5 percent in Nevada (first place). Notice that was a comparable start to Trump four years ago. The current president won 24.3 percent in Iowa (second place), 35.2 percent in New Hampshire (first place), and 45.7 percent in Nevada (first place; note that Nevada went after South Carolina in the GOP calendar last year).

After Nevada, Sanders could and should have begun reaching out to the establishment Democrats who were freaking out about the prospect of nominating him. This was the moment for Sanders to start uniting the party behind him. This might have meant moderating his message here and there. When Anderson Cooper asked Sanders about his past comments about Fidel Castro, the Vermont senator had two winning moves. The first would have been to surprise everyone by ripping into Castro’s human-rights record and arguing that authoritarian socialism is a betrayal of socialism’s values. (We may or may not have believed Sanders, but at least he would get out of the role of being Castro’s defense attorney.) Or Sanders could have said:

I know that I’ve said many things in my past that created controversy, rubbed people the wrong way, or even angered them. For almost all of my life, I was an outsider, and believed I could change things by being a provocateur. But the president of the United States has a different role. A president has to unite people, to bring them together to find solutions that work for the whole country. I don’t want to spend any more time talking about Fidel Castro. He’s dead. He’s part of history now; I want to focus on America’s future, and what we need to do now.

Have you ever run into someone who was too stubborn for his own good? Who kept making an argument long after it had been won or lost, and who simply alienated people by being unwilling to drop the issue?

Sanders is that kind of guy. Even after other Democrats started screaming that praise for Castro amounted to conceding the state of Florida, Sanders doubled down: “When Fidel Castro first came into power . . . you know what he did? He initiated a major literacy program. It was a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate and he formed the Literacy Brigade . . . and they went out and they helped people learn to read and write You know what? I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing.” Even when it came to a dead dictator, Sanders couldn’t concede an inch.

I suspect that was a big factor in the Democratic establishment pulling the trigger on the “unite everyone behind Joe Biden” plan. Sanders wasn’t interested in the “uniter, not a divider” role.

He wasn’t willing to throw the establishment a bone or two. This is the Bernie Sanders that prompted Hillary Clinton to say, “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done.” This is the Sanders who said that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement was a “modest improvement” on NAFTA but that he would vote against it anyway. Barney Frank, who once endorsed Sanders, turned into one of his toughest critics. “Bernie alienates his natural allies. His holier-than-thou attitude — saying in a very loud voice he is smarter than everyone else and purer than everyone else — really undercuts his effectiveness.”

Sanders kept insisting he didn’t have to compromise with the rest of the party, because there was a giant mass of previously unmotivated nonvoters who had just been waiting for someone such as Bernie Sanders to come along. After 15 Democratic contests this year, there is no evidence that those people are willing to come out and vote.

Another example: Bernie Sanders did not ask for Jim Clyburn’s endorsement. Sanders told MSNBC that “there was no way on God’s earth he was going to be endorsing me.” Hey, Bernie, sometimes people like to be asked anyway! The process of asking is a sign of respect, even if everyone knows what the answer is going to be. Not asking sends the signal, “I don’t think I need you.”

Two weeks ago, Sanders was in the driver’s seat. This coming Tuesday, Democrats will vote in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, and Washington, with Michigan being the biggest prize with 125 delegates. Biden is going to do well, he might sweep all of those states, and this thing might be close to being over. Sanders is going to find himself where he was last year — heading into a convention with an impressive but insufficient second place and furious supporters.

All because he couldn’t compromise when he needed to the most.

ADDENDUM: Every now and then you’ll see me retweet an update from Cam and Miss E., who are dealing with a fight against cancer and simultaneously trying to keep living their lives. If you want to get a sense of how the Edwards household can be full of joyous chaos even in the toughest of times, Miss E. demonstrates how she makes her fermented hot pepper sauce here.

Health Care

Bloomberg’s Crash and Burn

Michael Bloomberg participates in a march crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Ala., March 1, 2020. (Michael A. McCoy/Reuters)

On the menu today: saying “good riddance” to Mike Bloomberg, an attempt to scapegoat populism for the coronavirus crisis, the difficulties of enforcing a coronavirus quarantine, a good decision on protecting the candidates, and some events this spring that you will not want to miss.

Savor the Future of American Politics without the Threat of Mike Bloomberg Running

In late 2001 and 2002, most people on the right were glad to see Michael Bloomberg emerge as the Republican-ish candidate for mayor. The 9/11 attacks hurt New York City like it had never been hurt before, the task of rebuilding lower Manhattan and protecting against additional attacks was enormous, and Bloomberg’s Democratic rivals were a bunch of run-of-the-mill city-party-machine politicians. Fernando Ferrer argued with a straight face that his work as Bronx Borough president had prepared him to deal with the crisis in downtown Manhattan. He could barely deviate from his pre-9/11 rhetoric:

Ferrer said he believed that the reconstruction should be spread out across New York, and not concentrated in the financial district. “Of course I have a framework for rebuilding our city, while simultaneously protecting our commitment to education, after-school programs, health care and housing.”

Ferrer had prepared for the job of mayor as it existed on September 10, 2001, and couldn’t tear up his preexisting script. Against that, Mike Bloomberg looked like a titan.

As the Bloomberg era continued, New Yorkers liked him — at least, to the extent that you can accurately measure support when he was wildly outspending all of his rivals. Year by year, conservatives gradually grasped that Bloomberg was only an ally on economic issues, and even then in the broadest sense.

I keep hearing Bloomberg described as a pragmatist, even though banning black roofs and organic food waste, requiring a 2–1 women’s-to-men’s bathroom ratio in public buildings, regulating sodium levels in foods, and trying to ban large sodas strikes me as impractical micromanaging. Bloomberg is appalled by how Donald Trump is breaking our norms, but he strong-armed the city council into allowing him to run for a third term. During his brief presidential campaign, Bloomberg just pretended that he never liked stop-and-frisk. (If the constitutional problems with this policy escape you, imagine the IRS instituting a stop-and-audit policy for wealthy middle-aged white males. “Your honor, because of the defendant’s age, sex, and race, we have probable cause for a search.”)

Bloomberg seemed a limitless man — no limit upon what he would regulate, no limit to his self-assurance that he was right, no limit to his ego, and no limit to how much he would spend to achieve his goals. Along the way, Bloomberg decided to effectively “buy the gun-control movement.” Second Amendment advocates and the NRA were largely gaining ground in these years, and in many ways Bloomberg made a perfectly awful messenger: an arrogant, smug Manhattan billionaire who traveled with private armed security and could see no hypocrisy in that, and who scoffed that places such as Colorado Springs and Pueblo “didn’t have roads.” But Bloomberg’s commitment meant that the gun-control movement would always go into every fight with enormous financial resources — an advantage that should never be underestimated.

It’s worth noting that in 2008, and 2012, and 2016, people wondered if Bloomberg would run for president, and some movers and shakers, particularly on Wall Street, encouraged him to run. With so many people dreaming of an independent or yearning of some sort of Napoleonic figure to cut through the partisan divide, the possibility of a mega-billionaire presidential bid that would make Steve Forbes look like a tightwad hung over American politics like a heavy cloud. I would compare a Bloomberg presidential bid to Chekhov’s gun, but I’m sure he would try to ban that, too.

In many conversations with Cam over the years, we wondered just what would happen if the eighth-richest man in America, who effectively owned the gun-control movement and was a true believer in that cause, ran for president. On paper, he was a terrible candidate. But his resources were effectively endless. The prospect of Bloomberg spending his way into the White House and becoming an even more vehement opponent of the Second Amendment than Barack Obama was impossible to rule out.

Since Bloomberg crashed and burned Tuesday night, he’s been getting some strange new respect. Over at The Bulwark, Jonathan V. Last writes, “Mike Bloomberg bought an insurance policy for the Democratic party. He paid for it out of his own pocket and while the cost was more than you or I will ever make in our lifetimes, it was not as exorbitant as it seems. It was, for instance, only a fraction of the cost of building a football stadium, and its societal utility was far greater than half a Jerry World. All things considered, my view is that Bloomberg’s candidacy was more patriotic than narcissistic. And I respect him for doing it.”

To quote the famous criminal lawyer Vinny Gambini: “Everything that guy just said is bulls***.

Of course Bloomberg’s campaign was narcissistic. He kicked off his campaign by declaring in an interview with CBS News host Gayle King, “I watched all the candidates. And I just thought to myself, “Donald Trump would eat ‘em up.’. . . I would do the best job of competing with him and beating him.” In Bloomberg’s mind, that crowded Democratic field was a bunch of hapless losers — including the two guys who beat him like a drum everywhere he ran except for American Samoa. In Mike Bloomberg’s mind, only he could save the party. The former mayor walked around with a wildly unrealistic sense of his own popularity and persuasiveness.

The truth is that Mike Bloomberg is a pretty lousy, charisma-free campaigner who was always kept aloft by outspending his rivals by an insane ratio. Without his money, Bloomberg would never have won a darn thing. Even in 2001, against Ferrer, Bloomberg won by three percent while outspending his rival, $73 million to $16.5 million.

Even by the standards of presidential campaigns, Bloomberg wildly outspent everyone else this cycle. Back in 2007, Barack Obama spent a bit more than $100 million in one year of running for the presidency, which adjusts to about $135 million today. Bloomberg spent roughly $550 million in three months, which came out to about $233,333 per hour. By comparison, Tom Steyer looks like a cheapskate, spending “only” $250 million.

Thankfully, this time Bloomberg wasn’t up against a bunch of obscure hacks whose hands were still dripping with ooze from climbing the greasy pole of New York City politics. He was up against better-known candidates who had been on the trail for months and who actually bothered to prepare for the debates. The arrogant Bloomberg chose to wing it and paid the price. The presidency was worth spending a half a billion but apparently not worth spending more time in debate practice — or perhaps no Bloomberg staffer dared tell the boss he wasn’t good at this.

Finally, your mileage may vary, but the papers from Sekiko Sakai Garrison’s lawsuit against Bloomberg dispelled any lingering doubts I had that Bloomberg is — or at least was — just a terrible human being. Too many men and women who worked for Bloomberg in the past have told too many similar stories over the years for this to be just a handful of hypersensitive women getting offended over jokes, as Bloomberg insists. (Wilting violets rarely choose to work on Wall Street.) For a lot of years, Bloomberg was a foul-mouthed creep of a boss who simply didn’t seem to see his female employees as human beings. If upon hearing of your wife’s pregnancy, her boss told her to “kill it,” you would want to beat the tar out of the guy.

Perhaps you see a common thread between Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein and Bernie Madoff and Aunt Becky and the other wealthy folks buying their idiot kids a spot in an Ivy League school, and the collapses of Theranos and WeWork, and Martin Shkreli hiking the prices of drugs, to the Lehman Brothers executives who invested so recklessly, and the Sacklers making oodles of money off the opioid epidemic. (The Sacklers reached out to Mike Bloomberg for public-relations help to deal with the opioid profiteering scandal.)

If there’s a common thread, it’s that extremely wealthy people believe that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, and everyone else has to accept the consequences. As a powerful man once put it, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the p****. You can do anything.” If you see this as a serious problem in American life, entrusting the presidency to Mike Bloomberg seemed like an enormous gamble that Bloomberg’s conscience would provide a check against his ego, ambitions, and the temptations of power. None of this is a defense of Donald Trump; it’s an observation that an egomaniacal New York billionaire doesn’t become better just because he’s in a different political party.

Bloomberg will still be around as a big spender in American politics, but he’s never running for office again. That’s something worth smiling about.

Apparently, Somebody Thinks the Coronavirus Can Be Cured by Bigger Deficits

Over in The Atlantic, a classic of the genre of “this sudden crisis means that I should get the policies that I wanted all along” commentary:

Leaders understandably need to reassure their citizens on the economy even as they prepare for the worst—hence the recurring rhetoric about the economy remaining strong. However, to limit the depth of the recession that would accompany a pandemic, they should institute an economic initiative, possibly including a stimulus of government investment, to keep the global economy afloat.

The U.S. government is slated to spend nearly $5 trillion this year. That’s not enough stimulus? 

Stronger states must provide assistance to countries with weaker capacity to deal with the exigencies of the crisis, even if the countries are adversaries. Toward that end, the U.S. and others can look at temporarily lifting certain sanctions on vulnerable countries, such as Iran and North Korea, where necessary to fight the virus. There will be ample opportunity to reimpose the restrictions when the emergency has passed.

If we develop a vaccine, we should send it to everyone, including hostile states. If we have spare medical equipment — do we have spare medical equipment? — we should send that, and we should send it to our allies first, then non-allied countries that don’t begin parliament sessions with “death to America,” and then we should send it to hostile countries. Beyond that, I don’t understand why we would rescind economic sanctions on countries for aggressive or reckless behavior.

Maybe We Should Self-Quarantine to Avoid People Who Are Breaking Their Own Self-Quarantine

It’s one thing to declare a quarantine, it’s another thing to enforce it:

When an employee of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire showed signs of possible coronavirus last week, a medical worker who had examined him told him to avoid contact with others, pending further tests. Instead, he went to a mixer at a crowded music venue.

Three days later, he was confirmed as the state’s first coronavirus case.

When those who work in medicine think quarantines are optional, how likely is it that everyone else will honor them? And if this story sounds familiar, it’s because it is. “NBC News said on Thursday that its chief medical correspondent, Nancy Snyderman, is leaving the network months after the doctor made a controversial decision to break an Ebola quarantine to get take-out soup from a restaurant.”

As Kevin Williamson observed, “Americans are bananas, and American public policy has to take the whole banana bunch into account.

In that light, should we have a bunch of men and a woman in their 70s, some with past health issues, running around the country shaking hands with lots and lots of people and traveling on planes?

Speaking of protecting candidates, some good news: “The Secret Service is working through plans to provide protection to presidential candidates after protesters stormed the stage of former Vice President Joe Biden’s victory rally in Los Angeles late Tuesday in a harrowing scene.”

Just think, all this time we were worried about Islamists and white nationalists, but the anti-milk activists were lurking out there, waiting for the right moment to strike . . .

ADDENDUM: If you haven’t checked out the National Review Institute, you’re missing out on a lot. NRI is running a Regional Seminars series this spring. These half-day conferences will take place in Newport Beach (March 24), San Francisco (March 25), Dallas (April 14), Houston (April 15), New York (May 11), and Philadelphia (May 12) and will feature National Review contributors and leaders like Charlie Cooke, Kevin Williamson, Ramesh Ponnuru, Kyle Smith, Jay Nordlinger, and Maddy Kearns discussing the perennial fight against socialism and the importance of culture. Rich Lowry will be giving the keynote address at each event on his latest book, The Case for Nationalism. For more information and to register for the seminars, visit www.nrinstitute.org.


What Happened Last Night?

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden addresses supporters at his Super Tuesday night rally in Los Angeles, Calif., March 3, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

The short version of last night: It was the biggest setback for socialism since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Today’s Morning Jolt surveys the political landscape after Super Tuesday’s earthquake wiped out Mike Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren and left Bernie Sanders in really rough shape. That Joe Biden nomination that looked so unlikely just a week ago now looks extremely plausible.

The Worst Beating of a Socialist Since Rocky Fought Ivan Drago

This Super Tuesday, everything went as well for Joe Biden as he and his campaign could possibly hope. He won nine states, swept the South, won Massachusetts and effectively humiliated Elizabeth Warren, and is now the front-runner once again. The race isn’t over, but it’s now effectively down to two, and the only thing that stopped the night from being a blowout was Bernie Sanders winning California and three other states. Biden is ahead in delegates and heading towards six states that all look like friendly territory. Before our eyes, he is pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in American political history.

Put yourself in the shoes of the Democratic establishment one week ago. Bernie Sanders had won the most votes in the first three caucuses and primaries, and he appeared to be cruising towards the nomination. Sure, he would lose a state here and there, but he appeared set to keep winning pluralities in most states, head into Milwaukee with the most delegates, and force the party to accept him as their nominee this summer.

In the eyes of the Democratic establishment, this was setting the stage for a political catastrophe. Sure, Sanders galvanized a certain segment of the youth vote, but nominating him carried enormous risks. He might have a better shot in Michigan, but he was virtually going to concede Pennsylvania with his proposed ban on fracking — and perhaps any other state that has a lot of oil and gas jobs, such as Colorado and New Mexico. His praise of Castro made Florida unwinnable. House Democrats in swing districts were openly fretting that Sanders could cost them their majority. A Sanders nomination suddenly brightened the outlook for at-risk Republican senators such as Cory Gardner. Eleven states select governors this year, and socialism is not an easy sell in places such as North Carolina or Montana. What’s more, this year brings elections for 86 of the 99 state legislative chambers, and in many states, these are the chambers that will control redistricting after the census. Texas Democrats know their state isn’t going to turn blue in the presidential election but had been making gains in the state legislature.

If the Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders, and the theme of the 2020 election is whether America should become socialist, the Democrats will just get crushed in a lot of places. If you’re the kind of Democrat who doesn’t indulge in fanciful visions of a sweeping revolution, your nightmare scenario is not the Democratic nominee losing to Trump. Your nightmare is Sanders losing to Trump and dragging the rest of the party down with him, ensuring Trump begins his second term with a GOP Congress and, for the fourth time since 2010, a coast-to-coast shellacking that prematurely ends the career of your party’s rising talent in the states.

If you’re the Democratic Party establishment and you want to avoid the worst-case scenario, you desperately want the presidential candidate with the highest floor. The one who’s not going to alienate the soccer moms and white-collar suburban dads. The one who has a shot of boosting African-American turnout above the disappointing 2016 numbers. If you’re the Democratic Party establishment, you push the button that pulls out all the stops to make Biden the nominee.

This doesn’t mean Biden is guaranteed to be the nominee. As of this writing, the Associated Press estimates that Biden has 453 delegates and Sanders has 382. (Keep in mind, these numbers are going to change as California is still counting the votes and may be counting those votes for a while.) To in the nomination, a candidate needs 1,991. Sanders needs to prevent Biden from winning 1,538 of the remaining delegates before the Milwaukee convention.

But as Ryan Lizza observes, Super Tuesday blew up Sanders’s argument that he, and only he, can bring out the massive wave of new voters that Democrats will need to defeat Trump. (Note: They may not need a massive wave of new voters. A big question is whether they can win back the Obama voters that drifted to Trump.) After Super Tuesday, we can say definitively, that the Sanders-driven surge of new voters has not arrived and appears unlikely to arrive anytime soon. The states that had record turnout, such as South Carolina and Virginia, were won by Biden. (Considering the rate of population growth over a four-year period, every primary with a non-incumbent should have record turnout.) As of this writing, Nate Silver’s gadget over at FiveThirtyEight thinks there’s a 61 percent chance that no one wins enough delegates to clinch before the convention. But now there’s a 31 percent chance that Biden wins enough to clinch, and only an 8 percent chance Sanders will win enough.

What happened? For starters, the first two contests being almost entirely white hasn’t mattered as much in past years, but it really mattered this year. No state will ever be perfectly representative of the rest of the country, but Iowa and New Hampshire are ridiculously unrepresentative, particularly of the demographics that make up the Democratic Party everywhere else. Nevada is 10 percent black, 29 percent Latino, and almost 9 percent Asian. It’s mind-boggling that the Democrats ever agreed to a schedule where the first heavily African-American state goes fourth.

As one Twitter voice put it, “Black people don’t got time for Bernie and his foolishness.” The majority of Democratic voters in southern states is black. Biden just stomped through those states like Godzilla. Sanders supporters are quick to note he’s doing much better among younger black voters, but they just don’t come out to vote in the numbers of their parents and grandparents.

Secondly, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar separately were never going to rise above also-ran status. But together, their supporters made up anywhere from 13 to 18 percent in a lot of states, and when you put most of those voters into the Biden pile, you get something like last night. Biden didn’t run a single ad in Minnesota. Both supporters and detractors of Biden are murmuring about some sort of behind-the-scenes deal. Welcome to American politics; this is how you get things done. You build a coalition. “You help me by dropping out and endorsing now, I’ll help you out by giving you a nice position in my future administration after November.” If there was an offer to these candidates, Bernie Sanders could have made the same offer. He chose not to because he regards most of the rest of the Democratic Party as a bunch of useless corporate sellouts. It says a great deal about Sanders supporters that many of them see routine horse-trading and coalition-building as cheating.

And now the Democrats will learn the steep price of having a segment of their base that is angry and paranoid all the time, the “dirtbag Left” that sees everything as a corporate conspiracy. Sean King is apparently hallucinating segments of Rachel Maddow’s program.

Who’s spreading online disinformation now?

Morning Tapas: Small Servings of News

The spectacular collapse of the Elizabeth Warren campaign suggests that the national news media is now something of a liability to the Democratic Party, as the media keeps falling in love with candidates who are nowhere near as popular, likable, and appealing as their media coverage suggests. While the people who make up the national media are mostly Democrats, they are no longer representative of Democrats as a whole. They have advanced degrees, make more money, live in big cities or high-end suburbs, and are extremely socially liberal and focused in identity politics. They may vehemently oppose and even demonize Tea Partiers or MAGA-hat wearing Trump fans, but they also don’t have much in common with the churchgoing older African American in a small city in South Carolina, the Latina kitchen worker in the Nevada Culinary Union, or the gun-owning blue-collar recreational hunter in Iowa . . .

. . . Tim Mak with a spectacular scoop:

American Alan Gross, a prisoner in Cuba for five years during the Obama administration, is accusing Senator Bernie Sanders of commending the Communist country when he came to visit him behind bars.

Sanders visited Cuba as part of a congressional delegation in 2014, along with Senators Heidi Heitkamp and Jon Tester.

During the one-hour meeting, Sanders told the prisoner that he didn’t understand why others criticized Cuba, Gross said in an interview with NPR.“He said, quote: ‘I don’t know what’s so wrong with this country,’” Gross recalled.

The Florida GOP will be kicking the wastepaper basket in frustration if Sanders isn’t the nominee.

. . . Perhaps Mike Bloomberg was always going to be too capitalist for the Left and too nanny-state for the Right. But man, would he have been helped by some basic debate preparation and just a little bit of personality or warmth. To you or me, a fortune of fifty billion dollars would solve a lot of our problems, but it carries the cost that no one is willing to be honest with you for the rest of your life.

. . . The Democratic message can and should have been simple: “We will continue this economic growth, without the daily chaos that Trump brings.” Whether or not you, my mostly conservative audience, believe they actually can, that’s the kind of message that appeals to the broadest segment of voters.

ADDENDUM: Some people might look at the enormous twists and turns of the Democratic primary and think, “If this whole thing is so unpredictable, why do people cover this, then?” I happen to think that a lot of the presidential race is indeed over-covered, particularly the early segments. The debates get over-interpreted, the poll movements are treated as more important than they are, political obituaries are written prematurely. (I looked so smart on The Editors podcast in 2019, saying that despite his visible flaws, Biden had a good chance to be the nominee. Then he lost Iowa and New Hampshire badly and I declared his campaign a failure.) Longshot candidates are taken seriously and then flop.

Nobody’s clairvoyant. Many of the handful who foresaw a Trump win in 2016 also believed a “red wave” would preserve the GOP House majority in 2018. Almost no one saw Jesse Ventura becoming governor, Dave Brat knocking off Eric Cantor, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez knocking off Joe Crowley.

This is what makes politics fascinating. In sports, “This is why you play the game.” Upsets happen. Voters can change their minds. Voters can express one preference to a pollster and then vote differently in the booth. District lines that were gerrymandered a decade ago to protect incumbents suddenly don’t look as safe as populations shift and people move around. Everything’s a moving target.

To quote one of the wisest philosophers in the history of Western civilization, “You play to win the game. Hello? You play to win the game! You don’t play it to just play it! When you start telling me it doesn’t matter, then retire. Get out. Because it matters.”


It May Be Impossible, but Please Choose Wisely

Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden during the Democratic primary debate in Charleston, S.C., February 25, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Have yourself a super Super Tuesday. A slightly different format to the Morning Jolt today, as we sort through the four (three?) remaining contenders for the Democratic nomination. One week from tonight, almost half the states will have held their primaries.

The Choice Before the Democrats Today

I won’t be voting in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary, even though Virginia doesn’t register voters by party and allows those registered to vote to cast ballots in whichever primary they prefer. I hate it when Democrats try to make mischief in GOP primaries and don’t think we should encourage this practice. I’d prefer to see “closed primaries” in every state. The Democratic nominee should be selected by registered Democrats, and the Republican nominee should be selected by registered Republicans. If you want a say in which candidate a party is going to nominate, you should be willing to spend the five minutes required to fill out the paperwork to join the party.

As I see it, the Democratic primary has one just-barely-bearable option and three bad-to-catastrophic options. Your mileage may vary.

If Joe Biden became the next president, and he was working with a Republican House and Senate, you could imagine him becoming something like second-term Bill Clinton without the sex scandals. Biden’s not that much of an ideologue; he’s in politics to be a back-slapping dealmaker. He offers casual blasphemy to his fellow Democrats such as, “I really like Dick Cheney for real. I get on with him, I think he’s a decent man,” and calling Mike Pence “a decent guy.” During the Obama years, congressional Republicans preferred negotiating with him because he didn’t waste time lecturing them. Of course, a President Biden would be picking Supreme Court justices and federal judges that conservatives don’t want.

But because the Democrats control the House and would probably keep control if Biden wins in November, a President Biden with a Democratic House and a tightly divided Senate would probably result in a hodge-podge of deals with contradictory compromise provisions. Biden wasn’t put on this earth to hold the line against his party’s left wing, he was put here to give it half a loaf and promise they’ll get the other half next time. Sooner or later, he would feel the need to throw a bone to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her allies. Still, from the perspective of conservatives, Biden is probably the least-damaging option in the Democratic field.

Biden’s only real competition for that title was Amy Klobuchar. It says a great deal about the modern Democratic Party that Klobuchar stands out because she’s willing to say pro-life Democrats still have a place in the party. Like Biden, Senate Republicans said that she’s so nice, easy to work with, and reasonable, that they doubt she can win the nomination.

But she and Pete Buttigieg are both out of the race and endorsing Biden.

The best thing you can say about Mike Bloomberg is that he not only accepts American capitalism, he’s sometimes willing to stand up and defend it. In 1997, before he started running for office, the business media mogul wrote his autobiography, Bloomberg on Bloomberg.

The book is full of sections that hopefully reflect the former mayor’s true beliefs but are verboten in a Democratic presidential primary:

America really is the land of opportunity and home to more start-up enterprises than any other country. In this country, banks, venture capitalists, and stock exchanges are all accustomed to funding new ideas. The United States has a culture that prizes innovation, its social hierarchy is primarily built around merit, and it rewards a risk taker. Low barriers that encourage trade, publicly funded research that spurs innovation, and favorable tax laws that encourage entrepreneurship have been critical to our country’s growth… The simple fact is, the public sector traditionally has not innovated very well. There are powerful disincentives working against government innovation, because innovation involves risk, and risk involves the potential for failure. And if there’s one thing that scares politicians — not to mention their political advisors, — it’s failure.

But the prospect of President Bloomberg brings a lot of downsides. It’s bad enough that he fundamentally opposes the Second Amendment, but it’s even worse that he feels it can be ignored without amending the Constitution. He’s the nanny state on steroids; he genuinely believes he was put on this earth to save you from your bad habits and the bad decisions you make:

“Some people say, well, taxes are regressive. But in this case, yes, they are. That’s the good thing about them because the problem is in people that don’t have a lot of money. And so, higher taxes should have a bigger impact on their behavior and how they deal with themselves. So, I listen to people saying ‘oh we don’t want to tax the poor.’ Well, we want the poor to live longer so that they can get an education and enjoy life. And that’s why you do want to do exactly what a lot of people say you don’t want to do.  The question is do you want to pander to those people? Or do you want to get them to live longer? There’s just no question. If you raise taxes on full sugary drinks, for example, they will drink less and there’s just no question that full sugar drinks are one of the major contributors to obesity and obesity is one of the major contributors to heart disease and cancer and a variety of other things.”

Mike Bloomberg is explicit about the idea that you cannot be trusted to know what’s good for you and to make good decisions for yourself, and that government must step in and use the full force of law — the tax code, stop-and-frisk, “broken windows” policing of the most minor infractions — to stop you from making bad decisions. Many of us are willing to accept bad outcomes for some people as a consequence of living in a country of personal liberty, where the government isn’t meddling in every choice you make. Bloomberg wants the opposite.

And this is where Bloomberg’s overall intellect and competence work against him. In his first year in office, President Trump fumed on Fox News about his difficulties getting legislation passed through Congress. “It’s just a very, very bureaucratic system. I think the rules in Congress and, in particular, the rules in the Senate, are unbelievably archaic and slow-moving.” Trump’s idea of fighting the good fight is to send a lot of angry tweets.

Bloomberg has the same instinct that he should say “jump,” and the rest of the government should respond “how high?” The real danger is that Bloomberg would apply that intellect and competence to furthering an imperial presidency.

It’s difficult to see a path to the White House for Elizabeth Warren, but she’s still in the race. Everyone who lived through the events that set off the Great Recession can understand why a lawmaker would be deeply distrustful of big banks, the financial industry, and Wall Street, and believe that federal regulators and overseers have become sleepy night watchmen. There’s a reason Lou Dobbs used to be one of her biggest fans.

The problem with Warren — and a great many Democrats — is that they have limitless suspicion of the private sector but a bewildering faith in the abilities and good judgment of the federal government. Warren touts herself as the candidate with all the plans. Just because a president tells a federal agency to do something, it doesn’t mean that they will do it — quickly, efficiently, correctly, or at all. (I wrote the book on this.) Even when federal government employees want to enact the plan, the government is full of human beings, and human beings make mistakes. The EPA accidentally released 3 million gallons of tainted wastewater, turning rivers yellow in three states; the Office of Personnel Management put all of the potential blackmail material on every government employee who handles classified information in one place for Chinese hackers to steal; and the Transportation Security Administration failed to find hidden fake explosives in 67 out of 70 tests. If you put the federal government in charge of banning porn, you’d probably end up getting Stormy Daniels videos sent to your phone by FEMA. The federal government would not magically become super competent and wise under a Warren administration.

Oh, and even by the standards of politicians, Warren lies a lot.

That leaves the front-runner, Bernie Sanders. If elected, Sanders may be the oddest man to reach the presidency since . . . well, since Donald Trump, but they would probably rank number one and two in most improbable presidents. Trump and Sanders may have some uncomfortable similarities. Both men have been saying outrageous, provocative, and controversial things throughout their public careers. Both have benefited from improbable twists of luck to rise to the top of the political world. (If the NRA hadn’t decided to punish a turncoat Republican, Sanders might have never been elected to Congress.) While Trump had never been elected to anything before the presidency and Sanders has been in elected office pretty much continuously since 1981, they had roughly the same amount of influence on America’s laws until 2016 or so. Both men have a weird admiration for anti-American foreign dictators, just different ones. Neither man sees his respective political party as anything more than a means to an end. Neither man is instinctively gracious to those who disagree, and both men relish furiously denouncing their opponents as corrupt. Both see their mission in life to tear down an “establishment,” obliterate a status quo, and to turn American life upside down. Both men attract angry supporters; Sanders has a following that declares a desire to murder their opponents and embrace hate and then insists they were joking. After the attempted mass shooting at the congressional baseball game, it’s hard to shrug off people who are eager to play KGB or NKVD in a new Soviet America.

Many Republicans believe Sanders will be the easiest to beat in a general election, and they may be right. But I think Ramesh is correct when he warns that even Sanders winning the nomination would shift the Overton Window of American politics dramatically to the left:

If Mr. Sanders wins, it will mark a huge change in American politics. Self-described socialists have been elected in other developed countries, but never in this one. Here, “socialism” has been an accusation, not a boast. Politicians on the left wing of the Democratic Party have considered the label, and the associations that come with it, deadly to their electoral chances. Republicans hope it still is. If Mr. Sanders beats them, the taboo will be broken.

It’s not just a matter of the label. The limits of what’s politically possible will shift left as the political world adjusts to the new reality. Politicians, strategists, journalists, activists and voters who thought that certain ideas were too far left to make it in America would revise their sense of the country, and of what counts as extreme or as realistic within it. The ground on which future races for president, governor and Congress are contested would move left.

That doesn’t mean the U.S. would be Venezuela, or even Denmark, by the start of 2022. But it is reasonable to expect that government policy 10 or 20 years from now would be considerably more socialistic than it would be if Mr. Trump were re-elected — or if Mr. Biden were elected.

If you live in a Super Tuesday state and will be voting in the Democratic primary, choose wisely, America. The year 2016 should have taught us all that the candidates who supposedly can never win . . . actually can win.


Super Tuesday Approaches

Former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters at his South primary-night rally in Columbia, S.C., February 29, 2020. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

What a weekend, and what a week ahead! Biden comes back from the dead, doing the math on the Super Tuesday delegates, and why Mike Bloomberg might be setting himself up to be remembered as one of the most colossal underachievers in presidential-campaign history.

Forget a New York Minute. In a South Carolina Weekend, Everything Can Change.

Joe Biden’s campaign is resurrected and Pete Buttigieg’s is over.

The most interesting dynamic in the race right now is the battle between the factors supporting Joe Biden — African-American support, the Democratic establishment’s increasing desperation to nominate someone besides Sanders, the steadily narrowing field, and fewer non-Sanders options to split the vote — and the factors working against him: that he’s the same 78-year-old rambling symbol of the Washington establishment, best known as the wacky, amiable veep to a president who is oddly reticent as this campaign continues.

Remember, Biden led Iowa until last fall, and the late polling had him still in the mix for a strong second. Biden enjoyed polling leads in New Hampshire as late as January. Democratic voters in those states abandoned him because they thought he would falter in a general election against Trump. The idea of a Biden candidacy — driven by memories of the younger, sharper Biden from the Obama years — is stronger than the actual Biden candidacy. But Democrats may conclude they would prefer to roll the dice with wacky, forgetful Uncle Joe over Bernie Sanders, who’s inspiring his Saturday Night Live parody doppelganger to declare regarding the coronavirus, “you know who was great at washing his hands? Joseph Stalin! Just saying!”

At this point, there’s almost no scenario where Bernie Sanders does not finish with the most delegates by the time all the votes are counted from Super Tuesday. But Sanders’s lead matters less than the margin of Sanders’s lead.

(And it may take quite a while to count those votes: “In California, for example, vote-by-mail ballots don’t have to reach county elections officials until three days after the election, as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day. In 2018, it took weeks for some races to be decided in California.” We’re going to have some results from California tomorrow night, and almost everyone expects Sanders to win. The bigger question is the margin.)

The threshold to clinch the nomination is 1,991. Right now, Sanders has 56, Biden has 48, the now-departed-the-race Buttigieg has 26, Elizabeth Warren has eight, Amy Klobuchar has seven, and Mike Bloomberg has none. (More on him below.) Tomorrow fourteen states, one territory, and “Democrats Abroad” will vote, with 1,357 delegates up for grabs. Every Democratic primary in every state has a 15 percent threshold to win any delegates. Almost all the states award a portion of their delegates based upon the statewide vote and then a portion based upon who wins each state’s congressional district. On paper, a candidate can win a delegate without hitting 15 percent statewide if their support is concentrated in one district — but if you’re not hitting 15 percent statewide, you’re probably not winning many congressional districts.

If Biden is within 100 or so delegates of Sanders at the end of Super Tuesday, it looks like a competitive race all the way to the convention. If Sanders is up by a number closer to 200, his lead will be tough to overcome.

California has 415 delegates at stake. Right now, Sanders is leading, Biden is probably above the 15 percent threshold, Warren is probably just above it, and Bloomberg is close to the threshold. The disaster scenario for Sanders opponents is that they all finish with 14 percent or so, he gets the overwhelming majority of the state’s delegates, and the rest of the field has almost no chance of catching him. If Biden, Warren, and Bloomberg hit 15 percent — a plausible scenario, if Buttigieg’s voters split the right way among the three — then Sanders’s lead from the state will be much smaller. One other wrinkle: As of Thursday, more than 2.7 million voters in California had returned ballots in early voting. Buttigieg was getting 10 percent in recent polls in California, and Tom Steyer was getting 2.7 percent. If the early vote mirrors the polling average, about 324,000 Californians have already cast ballots for a candidate who quit the race.

The Trump campaign must be giggling like there’s a nitrous oxide leak, as the pieces are falling into place for a long, costly, and nasty primary all the way to the convention in Milwaukee in July. Either the Democrats nominate Sanders and carry the down-ticket burden of the socialist label (along with fracking costing them Pennsylvania and pro-Castro comments costing them Florida) or the superdelegates deny Sanders the nomination, sending the already-volatile Bernie Bros into a destructive rage.

Sanders is still the front-runner, and now Biden has reestablished himself as his top foe. But there’s one other guy who appears determined to stay in it for the long haul . . .

Psst! Gargantuan Ad Spending Is Obscuring the Fact That Mike Bloomberg Is Flopping.

Mike Bloomberg spent more than half a billion dollars on campaign advertising a week ago, more than twice the previous record. Tomorrow will reveal whether that fortune was wasted on a futile effort to sell a candidate that the Democratic electorate was simply not interested in buying. So far, the signs are ominous for the former New York City mayor.

Every Democratic primary in every state has the 15 percent threshold to win any delegates. This morning in the RealClearPolitics average, Bloomberg is at 13 percent in California, 16.7 percent in Texas, 16 percent in North Carolina, and 11.5 percent in Virginia.

The two most recent polls in Colorado put him at 14 percent and 11 percent. The one recent poll in Maine puts Bloomberg at 14 percent. A poll in Utah puts him at 19 percent. (They must have thought his large soda ban was aimed at caffeine. I kid, my dear Mormon readers, I kid, because I love.)

One poll last month did give Bloomberg the lead in . . . Arkansas, by a point over Biden. Yeah, that surprised me as well. So perhaps the mayor from New York City — “New York City?!” — could finish with the majority of the state’s 31 delegates.

Nor is Bloomberg likely to win delegates in his opponents’ home states. The only recent poll in Vermont puts him at 7 percent. The three most recent polls in Massachusetts put Bloomberg at 13, 13, and 9 percent. There have been only two polls in Minnesota in the past month, one putting him at 9 percent and the most recent putting him at 3 percent (!).

Nobody’s polled Democrats in Alabama or Tennessee.

Add it all up, and you’ve got extremely slim pickings for Bloomberg tomorrow. He could pick off some delegates by winning a congressional district here and there. His advisors are already telling reporters that there is no result on Super Tuesday that would be bad enough to get him to quit the race. (I am reminded of the slogan, “too big to fail.”)

But after spending a half-billion dollars, and having the airwaves entirely to himself in some states . . . shouldn’t he be winning someplace besides Arkansas? There aren’t even many states where he’s a strong second place.

If Bloomberg does flop, it will be a valuable lesson for every other billionaire who looks in the mirror and sees a president staring back at him. If you are not a naturally good campaigner, and if you do not emotionally connect with people, and if you are not prepared to go into a debate to defend your record and reputation, you will not succeed. Period, full stop, it doesn’t matter if you spend a half a billion.

If Bloomberg falls flat on his face, and discourages other billionaires from launching their own vanity campaigns, he will have done the whole country a giant favor.

ADDENDA: I went back and checked — back on January 2, I wrote: “There’s a good chance that two months from now, every delegate in the first four contests will have gone to one of four white candidates: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or Pete Buttigieg.” Every delegate in the first four contests went to one of five white candidates, that quartet and seven delegates to Amy Klobuchar.


The End of Elizabeth Warren?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary debate in Charleston, S.C., February 25, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On the menu today: The end is in sight for Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, David Brooks desperately tries to wave Democrats away from a critical error, and the mainstream media finally finds the coronavirus scary in a particular context.

The End of Elizabeth Warren’s Campaign Is Near

Is it too harsh to say that this has become Elizabeth Warren’s campaign trail . . . of tears? Polling suggests she’s on the verge of pulling a Marco Rubio — losing her home state to the frontrunner:

The poll shows Sanders is the choice of 25 percent of likely Democratic-primary voters, while Warren is in second place with 17 percent. The former mayors, Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg, are in a virtual tie for third at 14 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Former vice president Joe Biden rounds out the top five at 9 percent.

The Sanders campaign must be drooling at the prospect of that outcome — 91 delegates and Sanders would get the vast majority, with Buttigieg, Bloomberg, and Biden below the 15 percent threshold to win delegates. (Some will be allocated by who wins each congressional district, so the under-15 candidates could get one here and there.)

Separately, the UMass poll also puts Sanders ahead of Warren in her home state, 25 percent to 23 percent.

If you’re a conservative, one of the great delights of the 2020 presidential campaign cycle has been watching one Democrat that the media adores after another fall flat on his face. Everybody looks good in a blue state or district, with a mostly friendly national media parachuting in and swooning over their inspiring rhetoric. Even a modestly successful “beating expectations” presidential campaign is really difficult. We’ve seen Kirstin Gillibrand flop, Beto O’Rourke look buffoonish, Julian Castro get ignored, Cory Booker fail to launch, Kamala Harris rise quickly and sink even quicker . . . .

And soon, Warren may join the list.

Let’s give Warren credit where it is due: Most candidates never come anywhere near frontrunner status, and in October, Warren was either ahead of Biden or right next to him nationally. She rarely turns in bad debate performances, and she absolutely tore apart Bloomberg on his nondisclosure agreements in the Nevada debate.

If you believe that the media, big progressive organizations, and the professional white-collar coastal elites are the most important demographics in the Democratic-presidential nominating process, then Warren ran a near-perfect campaign for much of 2019. (It is more accurate to say those groups are among the most important factions but not the most important.)

Warren touted herself as the “I have a plan for that” candidate, which invited scrutiny of her plans, and she took a lot of fire for her plan to finance Medicare for All — so much fire that she stopped talking about her plan. The plan assumes that the federal government can get pharmaceutical companies to cut drug prices by 70 percent for brand-name drugs and 30 percent for generics through a series of reforms.

Her campaign seemed to be based upon the idea that a lot of Bernie Sanders’s supporters could be persuaded to jump on her bandwagon. The two senators are progressive allies, but each one took a different path to get to where they are, and you wonder if Sanders supporters have nagging doubts about the former Republican Harvard law professor who made hundreds of thousands of dollars representing big corporations. She converted to the progressive cause, but Sanders spent a lifetime in it. The Vermont senator has been in Washington since 1990, but he still can semi-plausibly claim to be an outsider because clearly exceptionally few people in Congress actually listen to him or his recommendations. Warren has been in important positions (Harry Reid’s TARP overseer, special advisor to the Treasury Department, U.S. senator) since 2008.

When Sanders supporters proved tougher to win over than Warren expected, she tried playing the “sexist” card on him, and that didn’t work well at all. She was much tougher on Sanders after the debate in their private exchange than she was on camera during it.

Since then, Warren has attacked everyone except Sanders, leading many, including myself, to suspect she wants to be Sanders’s running mate. Just about anything can happen in politics, but she seems to be an unlikely choice — she probably won’t bring in any voters that he doesn’t already have.

Keep in mind, Warren’s rise and fall occurred with the rest of the field steadfastly refusing to make Warren’s “person of color” status at Harvard a campaign issue, and with some members of the Washington press corps acting as Warren’s reputational bodyguards.

For someone who was supposed to be a really savvy politician, Warren is generating underwhelming results. Warren did okay in Iowa, getting eight delegates and about 20 percent of the final vote — the kind of finish that doesn’t generate a lot of momentum, but keeps a candidate in the game. But she struck out in New Hampshire, which is supposed to be friendly territory for a Massachusetts senator. Her 9.2 percent put her in fourth place, and perhaps even worse, she was ten percentage points behind Amy Klobuchar. She won no delegates in Nevada and finished fourth again with 11.5 percent.

The road ahead doesn’t look any better. No poll puts her above 15 percent in South Carolina, which was never going to be a particularly good state for her. The poll mentioned above suggests Sander might beat her in her home state, which would more or less spell the end of her campaign. If any Warren fans are hoping some overperformance in other Super Tuesday states might balance it all out . . . she might be a distant second in California, and she might get delegates in Virginia and Colorado. But you can’t second-place and third-place your way to the nomination. If Warren can’t win Massachusetts, where is she going to win?

Brooks: Bernie Sanders Is What the Founding Fathers Feared

David Brooks is desperately trying to warn the readership of the New York Times what they’re signing on to if they choose to nominate Bernie Sanders:

Populists like Sanders speak as if the whole system is irredeemably corrupt. Sanders was a useless House member and has been a marginal senator because he doesn’t operate within this system or believe in this theory of change.

He believes in revolutionary mass mobilization and, once an election has been won, rule by majoritarian domination. This is how populists of left and right are ruling all over the world, and it is exactly what our founders feared most and tried hard to prevent.

A few months ago, Brooks — former Weekly Standard contributor, the center-right voice on the op-ed page — wrote he would vote for Warren over Trump. But Sanders appears to be a bridge too far. Brooks ends today’s column: “I’ll cast my lot with democratic liberalism. The system needs reform. But I just can’t pull the lever for either of the two populisms threatening to tear it down.”

Earlier this week, the New York Times had six columnists write the best argument for each candidate; Brooks made the case for Mike Bloomberg. Thomas Friedman did not participate, but I think he would have picked Bloomberg, and it would have gone something like this: “The world is hot, flat, and crowded, which is why we need somebody cold, short, and super rich to manage it. I was hiking across the Himalayan ranges outside Kathmandu with a tech CEO from Dubai, and we agreed that billionaires just have an intrinsic sense of what is best for the common man. We’re the only ones who recognize that the only way to solve problems in a world full of terrorism and the coronavirus is to open our doors wide to the world and say, ‘come on in and cough up your best ideas.’ The best way to take care of the little people is to pick a little mayor who understands what they need better than they do themselves. If we could be China for a day, we would clear out all the messy divisions and get stuff done, without all the complaints from the great unwashed who—”

The Daily Beast: Oh, Hey, Now the Coronavirus Is Generating ‘Mayhem’

Headline at the Daily Beast, February 6: “The Virus Killing U.S. Kids Isn’t the One Dominating the Headlines . . . Coronavirus, with zero American fatalities, is dominating headlines, while the flu has killed dozens of U.S. kids this season—including 11-year-old Luca, a true ‘Giver of Light.’”

Headline at the Daily Beast, February 28: “Trump Spends 45 Minutes With ‘Deep State’ Play Actors Amid Coronavirus Mayhem . . . Meanwhile, the man he tapped to run point on the virus, VP Pence, took to a conservative activists conference and had meetings with pro-Trump media luminaries.”

The gist is that because the Daily Beast‘s editors have decided that now that the coronavirus is generating “mayhem,” the president and vice president should not take any time out of their day to speak to CPAC or handle any other duties. Twenty-two days earlier, the Daily Beast was playing “the flu is the real threat to America” card.

Much like Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the coronavirus became much scarier and more newsworthy to U.S. mainstream media once Donald Trump became involved.

That being said, I would not have minded seeing the president appoint a separate coronavirus “czar” — some sort of temporarily appointed special advisor to the president on COVID-19.

Way back in 2009, when the Obama administration was naming policy “czars” left and right, I argued that one newly created position was easily justifiable, the one focusing on cybersecurity. Because that potential threat covered so many areas of the federal government — the Departments of the Treasury, Transportation, Energy, Health and Human Services — that it made sense that if and when there was a crisis, to have one person in the room who has focused almost exclusively on this issue. Cabinet secretaries are fine people, but they have a lot of duties. You have to wonder how much Vice President Pence or HHS secretary Alex Azar can put their regular duties on the back burner during the coronavirus outbreak.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to everyone who came out to last night’s get-together for NRPlus subscribers down the street from CPAC. (You, too, could get invited to those events by becoming a subscriber. NRPlus is currently $69 per year, $75 if you want the print magazine as well — for just six bucks, you might as well throw it in — and as far as I can tell, there’s always some sort of reduced-price promotion going on.) I was struck by the number of people who told me how much they’re enjoying The Editors podcast, and it is pretty fascinating how you can get together a group of conservative writers and editors — Rich Lowry, Charlie — er, Charles C. W. Cooke — Michael Brendan Dougherty, and frequent appearances by Alexandra DeSanctis and political consultant Luke Thompson — and get such a mix of personalities and perspectives.

Health Care

Coronavirus Chronicles

President Donald Trump gives a news conference on the coronavirus outbreak at the White House in Washington, D.C., February 26, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Today’s Morning Jolt is all about the coronavirus. A fact that doesn’t help anyone score any partisan points, and thus will be largely ignored, disregarded, or forgotten: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the broader Trump administration could make all the right choices regarding how to handle the coronavirus, and it could still be a serious and disruptive problem.

Reasons You Should Not Be Too Worried about the Coronavirus in the United States

The Associated Press fact-checkers point out that the Democratic accusations that the administration is unprepared are based upon a budget proposal that was never enacted: “Trump’s budgets have proposed cuts to public health, only to be overruled by Congress, where there’s strong bipartisan support for agencies such as the CDC and NIH. Instead, financing has increased. Some public health experts say a bigger concern than White House budgets is the steady erosion of a CDC grant program for state and local public health emergency preparedness — the front lines in detecting and battling new disease. But that decline was set in motion by a congressional budget measure that predates Trump.”

All across the United States, since 9/11, hospitals and first responders have been training and running drills to deal with bioterrorism and mass-casualty events. This means for roughly eighteen years, everyone in the medical profession has been thinking: “If the worst-case scenario happens, what is my role in responding? How do we contain it, treat the sick, and minimize the danger to everyone else?”

What’s more, the outbreaks of the past years — swine flu, H1N1 flu, SARS, MERS, and Ebola — have given doctors, clinics, and hospitals good dress rehearsals for something on this scale:

“For the whole country, this is not our first rodeo with new germs,”  Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, executive vice president and chief clinical officer of Providence St. Joseph Health, said. “Ebola was our wake-up call that we needed to be ready for the next pandemic. So we, as well as other hospitals, put in place the ‘just-in-case’ scenario planning.”

That scenario is something that hospitals across the country have been rehearsing for weeks as cases of the new coronavirus, which causes a disease called COVID-19, rise around the world. And while not every U.S. hospital will get notice that a possible coronavirus case is coming through its doors, many say they have been bracing in other ways: They are holding daily briefings with state and local health departments, stocking up on personal protective equipment for health care workers and working with engineers to control air flow in their hospitals to make sure they are best positioned to stop the virus from spreading.

“We’re already acting as if it’s here,” said Dr. Michael Phillips, chief epidemiologist at the NYU Langone Health System in New York City, which has yet to see a confirmed case. “We’re already thinking about what we should be doing, how we make sure our health care workers are safe. Are we messaging them enough, but not over-messaging them?”

Much like other viruses, the amount of danger the virus presents is probably connected to your age and overall health condition:

The sample’s overall case-fatality rate was 2.3%, higher than World Health Organization official 0.7% rate. No deaths occurred in those aged 9 years and younger, but cases in those aged 70 to 79 years had an 8 percent fatality rate and those aged 80 years and older had a fatality rate of 14.8 percent.

No deaths were reported among mild and severe cases. The fatality rate was 49% among critical cases, and elevated among those with preexisting conditions: 10.5% for people with cardiovascular disease, 7.3% for diabetes, 6.3% for chronic respiratory disease, 6% for hypertension, and 5.6% for cancer.

The latest China-based study, which was not peer-reviewed by U.S. scientists, found that men had a fatality rate of 2.8% versus 1.7% for women.

Some of those numbers sound scary, but keep in mind, this means that if you’re 80 years old and catch it, you’ve still got an 85 percent chance of surviving.

As noted earlier, the Chinese numbers may be significantly affected by smoking rates in that country. Roughly half of all Chinese men smoke, while very few Chinese women smoke.

If you’re a nonsmoker who is in good health and takes basic preventative steps such as washing your hands, you’re probably going to be fine . . . at least, based upon what we know so far.

Reasons You Should Be at Least a Little Bit Worried about Coronavirus

Even if the United States is about as prepared as any country can be for a severe viral outbreak, a lot of other countries are not. And even the most technologically advanced, economically prosperous, and well-run countries are going to find this a serious challenge.

The government of Japan just closed all the public schools in the country for a month:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday asked all elementary, junior high and high schools nationwide to close from Monday through the students’ spring break, which typically ends in early April.

“Efforts have been made to prevent the spread of infection among children in each region, and these one or two weeks will be an extremely critical period,” Abe told a meeting of key Cabinet ministers on the coronavirus outbreak crisis.

The Japanese also reported that a woman who had the virus and appeared to recover had tested positive a second time.

Hong Kong is closing schools for two months.

Saudi Arabia halted travel to Mecca.

Milan, Italy, is not completely shut down, but the cathedral, opera house, schools and universities, and many bars and restaurants are shut down.

Joint military exercises with South Korea are being scaled back.

The quarantine of Wuhan began January 23. It’s still in place.

As I was discussing earlier, China has roughly 60 million men over age 60 who are regular smokers. If the coronavirus spreads throughout that population and kills just five percent of those, we’re looking at 3 million deaths.

Besides the severe economic consequences, I don’t think anyone really knows how the Chinese people would respond to a public-health crisis and disaster on this scale.

Beyond all of that, the United States and most Western countries are probably reasonably well prepared for this. Poorer and less developed countries probably won’t be well prepared. Any regime that has a history of being less than fully honest about the country’s problems is in for some serious trouble ahead.

If you thought Iran had problems before, take a look at the situation now:

“We think that this virus has been in Iran for the past three to four weeks and has circulated throughout the country. Right now in Iran we are facing a coronavirus epidemic,” said a senior medical doctor at the Masih Daneshvari hospital in Tehran, the country’s top pulmonary public hospital and the main facility overseeing coronavirus patients.

Since it first announced the presence of COVID-19 last week, Iran has so far reported a total of 245 cases and 26 deaths, a far higher fatality rate than seen elsewhere. The doctor, who requested anonymity to speak freely, said the official tally vastly underestimates the true number of cases. “We didn’t have a way to test people earlier and don’t have the capacity to screen everyone,” he said, in a telephone interview. “Let me put it this way, if in general two out of 100 corona patients die, in Iran, if we now have 20 deaths that means we have 1,000 infected patients.”

An anesthesiologist at one of Tehran’s top private hospitals, who also requested anonymity for fear of retribution, said she believed officials are victims of their own inaction in tackling the disease. “The reason these government officials are contracting the virus is because, they always want to hide the truth; so they don’t use any protective measures when going from this hospital to another just so they project this image that there’s nothing serious going on. It’s only natural that they have been exposed to the virus.” Speaking in a telephone interview, she claimed government officials held back information out of fear of low voter turn out in last week’s parliamentary election.

No matter how much we may detest the Iranian government, this situation still means suffering for innocent Iranian people. This is an erratic, paranoid, fundamentalist regime that is eager to find scapegoats. It is not difficult to envision scenarios where things go very wrong very quickly in Iran.

Why We Can’t See a Problem Like the Coronavirus Clearly

Ross Douthat picked up on something I couldn’t quite articulate as well as he did. We live in a U.S. media environment that can hype the dangers of everything from sharks to fracking to micro-aggressions to Russian-generated Facebook posts. Think of all the times your local news has run quick commercials like: “This common home appliance may be trying to kill you. We’ll tell you which one at eleven.”

But up until recently, a lot of our media voices were doing the opposite of fearmongering. For a few weeks, the dominant tone of the coverage was, “Actually, you’re in much more danger from the regular flu.” As our MBD observed: “Because most reporters are terrible at vetting information when it requires numeracy, they want to file many, many, many articles about how the seasonal flu was a greater threat than the coronavirus. Meanwhile, trade shows and global production lines began to shut down, when the flu never causes them to shut down.”

ADDENDUM: More coronavirus discussion, along with a lot of talk about the state of the Democratic primary, on this week’s edition of The Editors.

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