Kim Strassel on the Coronavirus, the Media and Donald Trump

Kim Strassel, an unapologetic defender of capitalism, is a Princeton educated author and  journalist who writes for the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. In the video below she is interviewed by Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution. It is certainly worth watching.

Kim Strassel interviewed by Peter Robinson

JFB

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A Conversation with Dr. Jay Bhattacharya

Dr. Jay Bhattacharya is a Professor of Medicine at Stanford University. He is also a PhD economist and research associate at at the National Bureau of Economic Research and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. In the video below he is interviewed by Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution at Stanford. 

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Joe Biden: Super Hero

It is hard to imagine that anyone could figure out a way to be more juvenile and petty than Donald J. Trump. But the Democrats have managed to do it. They are going to blame the COVID19 crisis on Donald Trump. And Joe Biden is slated to be the messenger. His job is to read the teleprompter and avoid extemporizing. 

I can hear the wail of protest now. The Democrats will argue that they are not blaming the virus on Trump; only that his belated response caused the virus to get out of hand. And we are meant to believe that the Democratic Party’s standard bearer would have done much, much better. 

If, for some reason, you ignore (1) who the standard bearer is actually likely to be, and (2) the time line of what actually happened, the argument has surface plausibility. But then reality sets in. The Party is poised nominate Joe Biden, a 78 year old with mental faculties obviously in decline. Not that they were anything to write home about to begin with.

So let’s look at the time line.

January 14, 2020—The World Health Organization (WHO) voiced the Chinese government’s party line. WHO said “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in Wuhan, China.” (See the Federalist). 

January 30, 2020—WHO declares a public health emergency of international concern and confirms person-to-person spread of the virus. 

January 31, 2020—President Trump declares a U.S. public health emergency and issues a ban on travel between the U.S. and China. That decision was endorsed by Dr. Anthony Fauci who later in an interview with Lester Holt, said “One of the things we did right was very early cut off travel from China to the United States…outside of China, where it originated, the countries in the world who have it are through travel.”

What was Joe Biden’s reaction?  Joe Biden reacted that day on the campaign trail in Iowa by saying “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia.” 

And what has Joe Biden proposed to handle the crisis? Well, he has called for “a decisive public-health response.” This is a pretty typical Biden non-response, on par with his penchant for referring to working with “the international community” whenever a foreign policy dilemma makes an appearance. And believe it or not, on the campaign trail he promised that if he is elected President, “Were gonna cure cancer.”

Really. He actually said that. 

And we are supposed to take Joe Biden seriously?   Why?

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Why is there a Shortage of Medical Equipment to Fight COVID-19?

Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize winning economist from the University of Chicago was once asked what government’s mainly produces. “Lines” he replied.

So here we are in March 2020 with the economy screeching to a halt and citizens staying in their homes largely as a result of government decree. The reason? There is not enough equipment available to test to see who has COVID-19 so that they might be isolated and treated, and the spread of the disease stopped.

Why did we lack adequate supplies of diagnostic kits, hospital beds and other treatment facilities and equipment? Routine bureaucratic incompetence. See the video below. Then think again about a “single payer” system.

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Democrats are Behaving Disgracefully

For the second time in 2 days the Democratic caucus in the Senate voted unanimously (except for Doug Jones, D. AL) to refuse to allow a vote by the full Senate on a $2 trillion bill designed to cushion the impact of the Corona virus. This while the financial markets are cratering, state and local governments are scrambling for resources, hospitals are stressed, small businesses are running out of cash and job layoffs are proceeding at what will likely be a record pace. 

It would be one thing if Democratic demands were designed to improve the proposed legislation. But many of the demands have nothing to do with the crisis at hand. For example, Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is working hand-in-glove with Chuck Schumer has proposed including same-day voter registrations as part of a package. Democrats are also demanding additional collective bargaining power for unions, increased fuel emissions standards for airlines, and expansion of wind and solar tax credits. 

This is the same Democratic caucus that correctly pointed out that the U.S. Government was asleep at the switch when the signs of danger began to emerge back in January. Then again, Congress was briefed on the situation in closed door meetings with agency representatives. And what did Congress do about it? It had already impeached Trump on December 18, 2019 but then Speaker Pelosi held up sending the impeachment articles to the Senate until January 5. The trial began January 12, 2020 and the preordained acquittal came on February 5, 2020. And all the while COVID-19 was infecting more and more people. Nice work, guys.

It is also worth noting that on January 31, 2020 in a response to the Corona virus, Trump issued the following order” “Foreign nationals other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have traveled in China in the last 14 days will be denied entry into United States.” Progressives who are now (correctly) complaining that the Trump didn’t act quickly enough, were also busy condemning Trump’s January 31 order as “racist” even though China was the origin of the disease. Because woke progressives are blind to anything but a burning desire to bring down Trump at all costs. And they will stop at nothing in the attempt to do so.

So while the house is burning down, the crowd that argued in favor of eliminating the filibuster decided to…filibuster emergency remedial legislation. The price of this blackmail is  the passage of a progressive wish list that has absolutely nothing to do with the crisis at hand. 

Enter Mr. Biden, the alleged moderate. For his part he is egging Congressional Democrats on, joining in the call to favor the common man over corporations and all the usual nonsense. One is left to wonder how Mr. Biden thinks people will be able to get back to work if their business go bankrupt while Chuck Schumer is busy working on solar panel subsidies. 

While all this is going on lefty Democratic media cheerleaders have actually begun to argue that Donald Trump should be denied access to media coverage until the press has had time to vet his remarks. Note that these media truth tellers had no problem with those pillars of rectitude Bill and Hillary Clinton. In any event the Trump blackout arguments are now coming from such luminaries as Washington Post media analyst Margaret Sullivan and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. The reason is obvious: Trump’s poll numbers have begun to rise, and that must be stopped at all costs. 

Given the dire situation, the behavior of the Democrats and their media cheerleaders goes well beyond politics as usual. It is indecent and even more dishonest than usual. It shows what they are really made of. And it isn’t pretty. 

JFB

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Judge Napolitano on Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and the Constitutional Order

With each passing day the failure of the welfare state to accomplish its stated objectives becomes more and more obvious. Needless to say failure hasn’t dimmed progressive enthusiasm for the politics of command and control.

The progressive project, still lauded by much of the academe, got its start in America with Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Progressive politics depended then, and continues to depend today, on the continuing evisceration of the U.S. Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights and the structural separation of powers designed to limit the power of government in order to protect individual liberty.

In the video that follows, in a conversation with Nick Gillespie of the libertarian Reason Magazine, Judge Napolitano explains the underlying philosophy that guided Roosevelt and Wilson and traces its effects on the modern era.

Judge Napolitano on Reason TV

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The Narrative

One of the more disheartening developments in what we laughingly call public debate has been the extraordinary emphasis placed on “the narrative”. The whole point of “the narrative” is issue framing. Instead of facts like who, what, where, why and when, the narrative seeks to define the contours of a story, and therefore the way the story is understood. In this manner, a story becomes part of a larger picture, woven into a tapestry of stories, pointing in the same direction, supposedly revealing a larger truth. 

But there is a problem with this. It is reasonably easy for unscrupulous players to get away with deliberately mischaracterizing issues by slippery uses of language and symbols, especially when they are not called out by the press. To be clear, it is not just deliberate mischaracterization that is a problem; it is also results from intellectual laziness and sloppy thinking that comfortably fits into the accepted “narrative”. 

Consider recent developments. The Corona virus is now charting a devastating path across the globe. With few exceptions, Taiwan being one, governments have been caught flat-footed. In part this is due to the dishonestly of the Chinese government which tried to cover up the outbreak at its epicenter in the Wuhan province. But other governments and international agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) chose to believe them or pretend to believe them, giving the virus time to metastasize around the globe before effective containment efforts could begin. 

Let’s acknowledge that there are reasonable people (most politicians excluded) on all sides of the discussion considering the likely path and severity of the virus. In part this is due to a lack of data. As the Wall Street Journal reports, CDC officials botched the initial development of a test kit; resisted calls from state officials and medical providers to broaden testing, and health officials failed to coordinate with outside companies to ensure needed test-kit supplies. As a result, largely due to lack of information, U.S. efforts to contain the virus were hamstrung from the very beginning. 

Add to that the magical thinking of President Donald J Trump. The irony is that Trump, a germaphobe, apparently decided that the whole exercise was nothing more than a publicity problem. And so he embarked on a regimen of happy talk in the hope that it would all go away, thus displaying for the umpteenth time how utterly unsuited he is for the office he holds. 

Which gets us back to the narrative. 

There is little question that Trump put on a breathtaking display of incompetence in his initial response to the threat posed by the virus. That said, it is also the case that we have a systemic failure on our hands. The failure has been years in the making. It is the result of bureaucratic ineptitude and policies adopted across many levels of government over a long period of time. It is not the singular fault of Trump as the developing narrative has it. Nor is the solution to simply hand out buckets full of cash, which is the usual progressive solution to just about everything. 

Consider, for example, the latest policy initiative which is to “flatten the curve”. When epidemiologists talk about flattening the curve, they mean to spread out over time, rather than reduce, the incidence of contagion. The rationale for this is to avoid a concentrated case load that would overcome the treatment capacity of the health care system. Note that this approach, designed to save the system rather than individual patients, may very well result in more rather than fewer people becoming infected. On the other hand, if the system did become overwhelmed, it is quite possible, if not probable, that more people would die. 

Why Are We in This Mess?

At this stage of the game it is worth asking why the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth finds itself with a potential shortage of hospital beds, other relevant medical equipment, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. One important reason, although not the only one, is the collection of perverse incentives embedded in the health care system. 

Consider the question of hospital bed capacity. The limited number of available hospital beds is not an accident; it is there by design. Hospitals are subject to state as well as federal regulations.  Among those are requirements for hospitals to acquire a “certificate of need” or CON from state regulatory authorities before adding hospital beds and some other types of equipment, e.g.,— MRI machines. Partially as a result, the U.S. has only 2.8 beds per 1,000 people—less than the 3.2 beds Italy has. By way of contrast, South Korea heads the list with 12.3 beds per 1,000 people. (For an in depth discussion, please see this article in Reason Magazine.)

Anti-competitive restrictions on hospital beds and other capital equipment are not the only problem. The system is driven by price controls that discourage innovation. The biggest spender for health care is the federal government, which decrees what it will pay for certain services through Medicare and Medicaid. In turn, these pricing policies affect what insurance companies will pay providers. Which in turn affects premiums that customers pay. Which, of course, our modern central planners want to eliminate by making private insurance illegal, thus locking in all the market distortions the current system has embedded in it. A single payer system would rely on mandates and allow no competition, and would guaranty that supply and demand would remain out of alignment. 

But rational discussion of supply, demand and market pricing is to be avoided at all costs. The all important and phony narrative must be maintained. The problem is really the result of waste, fraud, abuse and corporate greed. Couple that with the fact that Donald Trump is president. Add the fantasy that he is illegitimate because Vladimir Putin put him there, and all the ingredients are there to believe anything. Anything but the truth of the matter, which is that a combination of incompetent leadership and the command and control system put in place over the years failed us. As usual.

Not surprisingly, because it fits the narrative, the solution being crafted in Washington is to throw money at favored constituencies, which may or may not have anything to do with the virus. Consider the argument for sending out checks to citizens in order to stimulate the economy. Does anybody seriously believe that sending citizens checks and then telling them to stay home is even remotely stimulative?

It is certainly the case that many citizens will experience significant hardship over the months ahead as the unemployment rate rapidly heads north. In this emergency situation it is proper for the government to act as a backstop, especially since it is a response to a situation utterly beyond the control of the citizenry. But it is important to note that the rescue is not free; the bill will have to be paid later. In addition, it should serve as a wake up call for reform that moves in the opposite direction we have been headed. The health care system should move toward decentralization, market pricing and local decision making rather than more centralization, price controls, and top down bureaucracy.  

But I’m not holding my breath. 

JFB

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