Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Why Are There So Many Pandemic Deniers On The Right?

Okay, someone had to ask it so it might as well be me. Why is it that so many people on the right are skeptical about the whole idea that the country is facing a deadly pandemic?

For the record, I’m on the right myself. I’m a lifelong conservative-libertarian (small “l”) and, up until 2016, I was a lifelong Republican as well. I follow and talk with people on both sides of the political spectrum and in my journeys around the interwebs over the past few weeks, it has seemed to me that most of the people who could be called “pandemic deniers” fall into one of two groups: small factions of either Trump supporters or Libertarians.

Before I go further, I’ll stipulate that most Trump supporters and Libertarians take the pandemic seriously. The deniers are subcategories of these two groups. In my experience, I haven’t found any liberals who question the reality of the Coronavirus pandemic but there are probably some out there somewhere.

The Republican skeptics that I have run into online who deny the reality and/or the severity of the pandemic seem to be almost exclusively ardent Trump supporters on social media. Reluctant Trump voters seem to be among the majority that are taking the pandemic and the social distancing strategy seriously.

Among the Libertarians, it also seems to be an internet minority who take a skeptical position. This isn’t libertarians like Justin Amash or the Cato Institute staff. These are people who fantasize online about a “boogaloo” (also called “the big igloo”) in which they rise up against the government.

The two groups have different rationales for denying the pandemic. The Trump supporters believe that it is a plot to make Donald Trump look bad and cost him the election, either by crashing the economy or by making him seem to be an inadequate leader. The Libertarian skeptics believe that it is a plot to take away freedoms, possibly by imposing martial law.

The skeptical attitudes can run the gamut but go farther than mere disagreement with how the stimulus was handled. Some believe that the entire pandemic is a hoax. Others believe that it is real but that the danger is exaggerated. Some still say it is no worse than the flu. Others question the social distancing strategy and theorize that more people will die from the economic downturn than would be killed by the virus.

The two groups overlap in a few areas. One of these is a belief in conspiracy theories. While your results may vary, the people that I see questioning the pandemic are often the same people who think that Hillary Clinton is a mass murdering pedophile or that Barack Obama was going to declare martial law in the Southwest under the guise of the Jade Helm military exercise.

Another commonality is a distrust in the mainstream media. While much of the media (not all of it) is left-leaning, that doesn’t mean that it is always wrong. Sometimes even the leftist media is right. Quite often, the alternative conservative media is wrong. A recent relevant example is Rush Limbaugh who said that Coronavirus was nothing more than the “common cold” and attacked medical experts as part of the Deep State.

For many in these groups, there is a sort of reverse confirmation bias in which anything the media says is not to be believed simply because the media said it. This sort of attitude was seen among the Trump supporters of 2016 who supported Trump largely because the media and the Democrats opposed him, reasoning that, since he had the right enemies, that was good enough for them.

Part of the problem of denial in recent weeks was due to Donald Trump’s waffling. When the president worried last week that the cure might be worse than the disease, it was followed by a wave of Trump supporters arguing that the damage to the economy was not worth the lives that would be saved by social distancing.

The other question is why the left is not jumping on the conspiracy bandwagon when it could appeal to partisan illogic that it would be Donald Trump, their political adversary, who would be likely to use a Trojan horse pandemic to seize authoritarian power. Liberals would argue that they are more in tune with science, but the leftist assault on biological gender shows that argument to be partly true at best.

Instead, my theory is that it is a matter of leadership. Democratic thought leaders are united in the idea that the pandemic is a serious threat. Where we do see conspiracy thinking among the left is the belief that the Trump Administration is steering medical supplies to friendly administrations and holding them back from blue states.

Now that President Trump has extended the social distancing guidelines through April 30, it will be interesting to see whether these skeptics follow the president’s lead or remain fixed on how good the economy might have been if we had just let a couple of million people die. After all, some argue, many had health problems and probably would have died anyway.

In most cases, believing conspiracy theories over the media stories is relatively harmless, but that isn’t the case during a pandemic. At this point in our history, believing fake news won’t just make you look like an idiot, it might get people killed.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Fed Estimates Unemployment Could Hit 32%

A new report by the St. Louis Fed says that the worst is yet to come from the Coronavirus downturn. Economists at the Fed estimate that the economic fallout from the pandemic could kill 47 million jobs. That would translate to an unemployment rate of 32.1 percent.
The numbers reflect what St. Louis Fed economist Miguel Faria-e-Castro calls “back-of-the-envelope” calculations. Faria-e-Castro said that the unemployment rate may be lower if unemployed workers drop completely out of the workforce. The figures also do not reflect the effect of the recently passed stimulus which extends unemployment benefits and subsidizes businesses that keep workers on their payrolls.
Nevertheless, Faria-e-Castro told CNBC, “These are very large numbers by historical standards, but this is a rather unique shock that is unlike any other experienced by the U.S. economy in the last 100 years.”
The first wave of unemployment filings from the pandemic eclipsed records with 3.2 million new claims. That number is certain to go higher.
Faria-e-Castro says that there are 66.8 million workers in occupations that are “occupations with high risk of layoff.” These occupations run the gamut of the service economy and include sales, production, food preparation, and other services. There are also another 27.3 million “high contact-intensive”  jobs at risk. These include positions such as barbers and stylists, airline workers, and food service.
Faria-e-Castro estimated that about half of these jobs would be lost in the short term. That works out to just over 47 million jobs and a jobless rate that could be worse than the 24.9 percent unemployment rate at the peak of the Great Depression.
The upside is that the downturn may be brief. As soon a the lockdown is ended, people will venture back out and there may be pent up demand. By the end of April, many laid-off workers will be returning to their jobs.
However, with a vaccine for COVID-19 at least a year away, it is unlikely that things will return to normal for the remainder of 2020. Even as people leave their homes, the need for social distancing will continue to prevent new outbreaks. Many people, especially those in high-risk categories, may not want to travel or spend a lot of time in public until the virus has been totally defeated. Still, the worst part of the downturn should be mercifully brief.
Faria-e-Castro cautions that the disruption in the job market “will be unparalleled, but don’t get discouraged. This is a special quarter, and once the virus goes away and if we play our cards right and keep everything intact, then everyone will go back to work and everything will be fine.”
Originally published on The Resurgent

The Election Will Be A Referendum On Trump’s Handling Of Coronavirus

It has been just over a month since I wrote that Coronavirus would be a wild card for the election year and there has been a lot of water under the bridge since then. While events are still unfolding, the focus on the pandemic and the fact that campaign events will likely be curtailed over the summer means that this year’s presidential election will probably be a referendum on how the Trump Administration handles the emergency.
So far, the good news for Republicans is that the focus has been on Donald Trump. As the president gives daily briefings and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden self-isolates, the president is front-and-center in the public view. The bad news for Republicans is that the president is front-and-center in the public view.
President Trump has so far gotten decent marks for his handling of the crisis. The president’s approval in the FiveThirtyEight average has ticked up about three points since March 13 when he declared a national emergency for the pandemic. A CNN poll released yesterday showed that Americans are almost evenly split on the federal government’s handling of the crisis. After trailing in the polls for months and with more than half of the electorate having said that they won’t vote for Trump’s re-election, the emergency represents a chance for the president to change minds and win votes with a strong, competent performance when the chips are down.  
But Trump’s approval on the issue of the pandemic seems vulnerable. Polling taken on March 26-27 as Trump was considering cutting the social-distancing guidelines short reflected a drop. The Harris poll showed a six-point drop over the previous week that was driven by declines in approval among Republicans and independents. The poll may be an outlier or it may reflect that the public will support Trump on Coronavirus only as long as he does the right thing.
While Trump does have positive approval on his handling of the pandemic, Morning Consult polling shows that the president has the lowest net approval of any entity that was rated for performance on the pandemic. The president’s rating was far behind the CDC and the WHO and underscores how marginal the president’s performance on the pandemic has been.
This also helps to explain why President Trump, despite his improved approval ratings, is still running behind Joe Biden. The Real Clear Politics average currently shows Biden up by an average of more than six points. Biden’s advantage includes leads in battleground states and counties. Given the former vice president’s tendency toward stumbles and gaffes, Biden may benefit from being out of the limelight.
Coronavirus may throw another wrench into the best-laid plans for the presidential election as well. As Democratic primaries are canceled and delayed, it becomes harder for Joe Biden to clinch the nomination before the convention, which is scheduled to being on July 13. If Biden loses the confidence of Democratic insiders, the delayed conventions could leave an opening to nominate a dark-horse candidate such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A risk for Democrats is that such a move could trigger mass defections among Bernie Sanders supporters, however.
The possible cancellation of the Democratic convention could be an advantage for Republicans. For many Americans who don’t follow politics year-round, the convention is an introduction to the opposition candidate. If the convention doesn’t happen, it’s harder to find a big moment for Trump’s challenger to make his case, especially with many smaller events being canceled as well.
“That Thursday night speech by our nominee could be seen by 50 to 60 million Americans, most of them who haven’t paid a minute of attention to the primary. That’s the conversation that takes us to winning,” Bob Mulholland, a California DNC member told Politico. “If we have to cancel and Trump has a convention with 40,000 people screaming and yelling … that’s an advantage to Trump because nobody saw us except some text they got, and then they watched Trump.”
President Trump stands to benefit if the death toll is extremely low and if the economy rebounds quickly. Conversely, if the outbreak is out-of-control for months or if voters are feeling economically vulnerable this fall then Trump might be blamed. Democratic safety-net programs could look very attractive to an electorate with high unemployment and facing a deadly virus without health insurance.
Aside from the obvious factors of the ultimate severity of the pandemic and the associated economic downturn, there will be investigations into how the government reacted during the crisis. These won’t necessarily be criminal or congressional investigations, but journalists will be talking to people who were involved to find out what happened behind the scenes. The revelations in those articles and books could impact the campaign.
Likewise, the pandemic will be a central part of messaging for both parties. Democratic ads with the president downplaying the need for ventilators, accusing doctors and nurses of hoarding supplies or “worse than hoarding,” and saying that Coronavirus was contained and under control write themselves. In fact, one such ad has already been written and posted to Twitter by The Bulwark.

While there are trends that we can watch, the history of the Coronavirus pandemic is still being written. Just because Donald Trump has approval for his handling of the outbreak now doesn’t mean that the same will be true in November. Conversely, we have seen that a Democratic edge in the polls can slip as the election draws near.
The bottom line is that Coronavirus remains a wild card. With eight months to go before the election, a lot can happen. If the first few months of 2020 are any indication, a lot will. Anybody who claims to know for sure how the pandemic will impact the election is lying to you.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, March 30, 2020

FDA Authorizes Experimental Treatments For COVID-19

he Food and Drug Administration has approved a Trump Administration plan to use unapproved and untested drugs to fight the Coronavirus pandemic. The FDA said that the possible benefits outweigh the risks of the experimental treatments.
In particular, the drugs, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, have been the source of optimism after a few, small, anecdotal reports hinted that they were effective in treating the COVID-19 virus. The drugs are approved treatments for malaria.
Use of the drugs is not without risks. Although both have FDA approval, they also come with known side-effects. GoodRX.com notes that hydroxychloroquine typically has fewer side-effects, but both drugs can cause irreversible vision changes, abnormal heart rhythm, muscle weakness, nerve pain, low blood glucose, and worsening of psoriasis. The side-effects are more pronounced with long-term use and at higher dosages.
The problem could be compounded by the fact that many of the critical COVID-19 patients have underlying health issues. These could include heart problems that would be compounded by the drugs’ side-effects.
Michael Ackerman, a pediatric cardiologist and professor at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, told the Washington Post, “The concern really is if we’re talking millions of patients, then this issue of drug-induced sudden cardiac death is absolutely going to rear its ugly head.”
Despite the risks, in its authorization letter, Denise Hinton, chief scientist at the FDA, granted permission to use the drugs against COVID-19 with some restrictions because “there is no adequate, approved, and available alternative.” The authorization is valid until the FDA determines that the emergency circumstances no longer exist.
It is too early to tell whether the drugs, which have been hyped by President Trump, will be as effective against the Coronavirus as early results suggest, but the move by the FDA is nevertheless a good one. Coronavirus patients whose lives are hanging in the balance with only weeks to live deserve the chance to try.
Originally published on The Resurgent

De Blasio’s Church Threat Is Unconstitutional

There have been accusations of First Amendment violations in orders that prohibited church gatherings due to Coronavirus. Some have claimed that those orders violated religious freedoms because they included churches. Those people were wrong, but now New York Mayor Bill De Blasio has gone a step beyond what the law allows.
In a televised address, De Blasio told New Yorkers, “A small number of religious communities, specific churches and specific synagogues, are unfortunately not paying attention to this guidance even though it’s so widespread. I want to say to all those who are preparing for the potential of religious services this weekend: If you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services.”
De Blasio then said that law enforcement had been instructed “if they see worship services going on they will go to the officials of that congregation and they will inform them that they need to stop the services and disperse. If that does not happen, they will take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently.”
To be clear, quarantines and orders limiting public gatherings are both legal and constitutional. The understanding of the need for quarantines goes back beyond the understanding of germ theory. The CDC notes on its site that the word “quarantine” dates back to the Middle Ages and literally means “40 days,” which coincidentally, is about how long it’s going to take to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In early American history, quarantines were instituted by both the colonial governments and the fledgling government of the United States. Federal action today is justifiable under the Interstate Commerce Clause, the General Welfare Clause and the Public Health Service Act. Though modern Americans have not had to deal with a situation like the Coronavirus pandemic, quarantines and other restrictions were common in our history as our forefathers fought diseases such as smallpox and yellow fever.
In the past, however, many quarantine actions were undertaken by state and local governments. In the current health crisis, we see a similar pattern as governors and city leaders take the lead on restricting movements to slow the infection. In fact, states have much broader quarantine powers than the federal government. Vox has a good explanation of quarantine law and a rundown on various state laws here.
New York Mayor Bill De Blasio is one of these local leaders. To be clear, De Blasio is within his authority and is doing the right thing to ban public gatherings. As David French and Sarah Isgur discussed on the Advisory Opinions podcast two weeks ago, if the government issues a blanket ban on public gatherings in an emergency that includes but does not single out religious gatherings, it is not a violation of the First Amendment or religious freedom.
A popular meme going around the internet says that quarantines only apply to sick people. This is also incorrect. Quarantines apply to people who might be infected. Sickness is not required.
Where De Blasio crosses the line is with his threat to permanently close churches and synagogues. Once the emergency is over, the city would have no authority to keep houses of worship open. If the City of New York tried to enforce such an unconstitutional order, it would lose.
Until the outbreak is stopped, however, De Blasio does have the authority to shut down religious services and fine those who flout the order. I hope that he does use these powers because the situation in New York is beyond the pale. Christians should have more consideration for their fellow man than to risk the deaths of thousands simply because they insist on meeting in person.
That does not mean that the faithful can’t continue to worship in small or virtual groups. Online services have become the norm around the country over the past few weeks as Chris Queen wrote two weeks ago.
When the plague has subsided, many Americans will rejoice and thank God in churches around the country. There will be more Americans alive to do so if churches and businesses don’t act stupidly in the meantime.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump Extends Social Distancing Through April As Fauci Predicts 100,000-200,000 Deaths

I'm frequently critical of President Trump and it’s usually for good reason. However, I try to be objective and give the president credit when he does the right thing. That was the case yesterday when he ordered an extension of the federal call for social distancing to April 30.
About this time last week, President Trump was wondering whether the cure was worse than the disease and speculating that the country could be back to normal by Easter. At the time, I advised the president to listen to his doctors. Apparently he did.
By yesterday, Mr. Trump seemed to be taking the crisis more seriously. Speaking to reporters at the daily Coronavirus press briefing, the president said he would extend the federal social distancing guidelines to the end of April. The guidelines, originally set for two weeks, were due to expire on Monday.
As he spoke to reporters, Trump seemed like a different person from the president who wanted to fill churches for Easter only a few days before.
President Trump told reporters, “The modeling estimates that the peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks, so I’ll say it again: the peak, the highest point of death rates, remember this, is likely to hit in two weeks.” Two weeks from yesterday would be Easter Sunday.
So far, the US has reported 2,582 Coronavirus deaths per tracking site, Worldometer.com. There were 362 new deaths reported on Sunday, March 29, which was down from 525 on Saturday. The site cautions that Sunday’s data may be incomplete due to delayed reporting from New York. Coronavirus deaths have been doubling every 2-3 days.
“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won,” the president continued. “That would be the greatest loss of all. Therefore, the next two weeks, and during this period it’s very important that everyone strongly follow the guidelines.”
“The better you do, the faster this whole nightmare will end,” the president told the country.
The credit for Trump’s turnaround almost certainly goes to Drs. Fauci and Birx. The two medical experts are frequent fixtures are the press conferences and have won the respect and admiration of the country.
Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday, Dr. Fauci said, “Looking at what we’re seeing now, you know, I would say between 100 and 200,000 (deaths)” from Coronavirus in the US. Fauci said that the US would have millions of COVID-19 cases.
“Whenever the models come in, they give a worst-case scenario and a best-case scenario,” Fauci explained. “Generally, the reality is somewhere in the middle. I’ve never seen a model of the diseases that I’ve dealt with where the worst case actually came out. They always overshoot.”
The worst-case scenario presented by the models would be millions of deaths. At the press conference, Dr. Birx said that models predicted “1.6 and 2.2 million fatalities if we didn’t mitigate.” Fauci called that worst-case scenario “not impossible, but very, very unlikely.”
Presenting bad news with good, the president also veered off-script to accuse New York health authorities of something “worse than hoarding.”
“I want the people in New York to check Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, that when a hospital that’s getting 10,000 masks goes to 300,000 masks during the same period, and that’s a rapid period, I would like them to check that because I hear stories like that all the time,” Trump said. “We’re delivering millions and millions of different products, and all we do is hear, ‘Can you get some more?””
Actor Lou Diamond Phillips responded to the charge on Twitter, pointing out that 1,000 nurses changing their masks between treating 30 patients per day would use 300,000 masks over 10 days. The dramatic increase in the usage of medical products is tied directly to the dramatic increase of infectious patients.  
At the end of the day, however, President Trump stepped up and made a very difficult decision. Keeping the economy in hibernation for another month as we approach a presidential election was not an easy thing to do, but, when the evidence of the spreading outbreak was considered, there was really no choice at all. When given a choice between a recession or millions of dead Americans plus a recession, the president acted wisely and against the wishes of many in his base. He deserves credit for that.

Originally published on The Resurgent