The Morning Jolt


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.”


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