My Content

Coronavirus

TikTok Carnage (Ep. 262)

This week’s MPU podcast looks at how millennials on TikTok turned Trump’s Tulsa rally into a low-turnout debacle, the new John Bolton book PR debacle for the administration, and how the Supreme Court continues to defy expectations with surprisingly fair-minded decisions.

The Campus Covid Crisis To Come

Colleges and universities are claiming they can reopen safely, with students acting like mature adults. College professors and parents know differently.

As the father of a rising college sophomore, I am highly conflicted about the wisdom of reopening universities in September. On one hand, my son is thrilled to be going back to his beloved Emerson College in Boston for the Fall semester. But I also know that no matter what I say about masks and eight-feet of space and avoiding parties, he will listen to my sage advice about as much as he listened in his first 19-years. In other words, hardly at all.

Last week, after three months of home isolation and angst, my son got the long-anticipated email: Emerson will indeed reopen this Fall with a “hybrid” combination of live and online classes. The email from the college president painted a rosy picture of all the smart precautions they are taking to ensure it can be done safely. But the one crucial element left out of the email was that the success of this high-risk venture mostly depends on the rational and mature personal discipline of 18-21 year olds. Often under the influence of liquor.

While colleges across the country are sending out similarly optimistic emails about all the “precautions” they will be taking to make campus life safe, professors and administrators will privately tell you it’s a delusional fantasy. Sure, you can limit dorm rooms to two students each, but the hallways and bathrooms are communal, as well as study lounges and, of course, cafeterias, where masking is impossible.

Then there’s the nasty issue of peer pressure. I’m a 63-year old man with a fair amount of self-discipline, yet even I find myself relenting to non-mask social interactions with neighbors who invariably edge from 6 feet away to 4 to 3. Of course, as an adult with nothing to prove, I can back up or withdraw entirely. I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll be teased by my friends or if I look cute to the boy I like. But what happens when classmates and dorm-mates from southern states who have been conditioned by their families to mock mask wearing start to put social pressure on those kids who are trying to do it right? What will your son or daughter do when they go to a “must mask” party only to find that most kids are showing their faces, and your kid is the one who looks like a weirdo? You know the answer: the teenage desire to fit in will prevail, and the mask will lose.

Then there’s frats and sororities – which take all those problems and adds bravado and liquor.

The data is already coming in: teens and young adults are not immune from Covid-19, and it can wreak havoc on even the strongest bodies. Reports from army bases and prisons are showing troubling outbreaks among young, healthy people living in close quarters. If coronavirus can plunder its way through a county jail or prison, which are essentially dorms with bars, what makes you think it won’t happen on a college campus?

The colleges say they will set aside a certain portion of their on-campus housing for students who test positive and need to be quarantined. Okay, but who will nurse them and bring them food when those positive cases turn into serious Covid symptoms? Colleges can barely man their health offices. Who is going to tend to the health of my violently sick student locked in a dorm-turned-ICU when his parents are 2000 miles away? 

Then there’s the question of transmission to faculty, which is inevitable. What happens when 3 or 6 or 12 faculty members are suddenly hospitalized (or worse)? What happens when 20 or 40 or 400 college students across the country suddenly turn critically ill in the first few weeks, with some landing on ventilators? What happens when students have to skip class to attend a classmate’s funeral?

Currently infection rates among broad populations seem to be hovering in the 4-7% range. In Boston, the city where my child matriculates, there are 100 institutes of higher education serving some 350,000 college and post-graduate students. If even 2% of them become sick enough to need hospitalization, it would be a healthcare nightmare. If 7,000 Boston students get sick, and only 0.5% of them succumb to the illness, that’s still 35 dead college kids. Just in Boston! Project that out to the approximately 15,000,000 college students in the USA. Are one or two semesters of college worth 1,500 lost college lives?

Look, all of this is speculation, and I’m no epidemiologist. I’m just an anxious dad. I may be wrong and our kids will be fine and thrive. I pray that’s the case. But what if my worst fears are realized, or worse? As a nation we have a bad history of sacrificing our young people in wars that were supposed to be short and relatively bloodless, only to find ourselves thousands of deaths later ruing our blind faith in the public assurances of our national leaders. Do you really trust college presidents and the corprorate Boards they report to to put your child’s health ahead of their bottom lines?

Of course, as a feckless father, I’ll let my child return to college this Fall, because I don’t want my anxieties to stand in the way of his dreams. But if their dreams turn into our worst nightmares, we will have to carry that burden for a lifetime to come. 

And then there’s K-12 and childcare. Those are a whole other set of landmines waiting to explode.

Kevin Kelton is a co-host of The More Perfect Union podcast.

 

Lady G (Ep. 260)

 

This week’s podcast features comedian Ward Anderson as he and the gang discuss the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, the Lindsey Graham “Lady G” rumors, and some common misconceptions about the 2020 presidential race.

Bleach Blonde (Ep. 254)

The podcast introduces DJ’s wife, Ora, as she joins the gang to inject disinfectant into the week’s coronavirus news.

Trump’s Immigration Deflection

by D.J. McGuire

Donald Trump recognized his response to coronavirus was a disaster both nationally and politically. He won’t tell you that; nor will his die-hard supporters. He knows it all the same. Otherwise, he would never have bothered trying to distract everyone – especially said die-hard supporters – with an irrelevant but damaging executive order halting all immigration to the United States.

Trump’s entire response to coronavirus has been a slow-motion version of “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.” First, he insisted it wasn’t a big deal (Tim Miller, Bulwark). When that didn’t work, he tried convincing Americans that this was a surprise to everyone (Miller has the receipts showing otherwise). Then he tried blaming “China” – by which I presume he meant the Chinese Communist Party. That might have gotten him somewhere had he not tried to rope Joe Biden in via guilt by association (Biden promptly pulled out his own receipts on Trump’s obsequious praise for Xi Jinping). So he pivoted to spouting off about the need to remove restrictions imposed by the states (insisting governors should “LIBERATE” them). Pew Research found that most Americans would prefer they didn’t.

At long last, with each narrative collapsing under the weight of reality, Trump shifted gears and went to his standby: irrelevant nativism.

The idea that an immigration pause would do anything against the “invisible enemy” is laughable. The nation with the largest caseload and body count from the virus is … the United States. Even on a per capita basis, we are in the top ten, with the only nations ahead of us from Europe (which was already under a partial travel ban). We have ten times as many cases and deaths as mainland China, a disparity no amount of (certainly happening) Communist cover-up could erase.

Then there is the question of how America is in such good shape that the economy can reopen while also being so bad that immigrants have to be barred for two months.

Of course, Trump probably knows this too – otherwise he wouldn’t have added boilerplate nonsense about “protecting jobs.” The idea that a two-month pause in immigration would have any visible effect on a labor force where 22 million (at least) have been forced into unemployment is nonsensical.

Not only is there no short-term gain, but lots of long-term pain, as Linda Chavez noted (Bulwark):

While most immigrants work in the service economy, a 2018 study by the Brookings Institution indicates that nearly a third of our STEM workers and students are also immigrants or the children of immigrants. When researchers find a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, we shouldn’t be surprised that an immigrant or first generation American will be on the team, or even leading it.

In the meantime, the orderlies, nurses, and doctors caring for patients in hospitals around the country are increasingly likely to be foreign born, with immigrants accounting for almost a third of physicians and nearly 40 percent of health aid workers, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute.

Note how Trump didn’t couch his order as “Fewer engineers and health care workers” – but those are the effect regardless. Unintended consequences don’t care about anyone’s feelings.

The reality is this: Donald Trump needed a distraction. He needed something to rile up his base. Bashing immigrants has always been his break-glass-in-case-of-emergency move.

There is one silver lining to this, however. We have yet more proof that for Trump and his supporters, it was never really about “illegal” immigration. It was about immigration, period. We should not forget this.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Biden Endorsements Galore (Ep. 253)

This MPU podcast catches up with the 2020 presidential race as Democrats line up to endorse Joe Biden. Then the hosts look at the week in the world of Coronavirus, and how it’s changing their own lives.

School’s Out (Forever?) [Ep.252]

This MPU episode looks at how the coronavirus will affect schools, the economic recovery, and the 2020 presidential election.

Unemployment Pandemic (Ep. 251)

This episode looks at the economic impact of the coronavirus and the controversial decision to hold the Wisconsin primary during that state’s stay-at-home lockdown. Then the hosts share what necessities of life they have learned to buy online while sheltering in place.

 

Gimme Shelter In Place (Ep. 250)

This episode looks at the new shelter-in-place culture and then answers the burning Bernie Bros. question, “where’s Joe Biden?” (Hint: you’re not looking hard enough.)

1918 or 1929? (Ep. 249)

This episodes looks at the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and the status of the Democratic primary race in a Covid-19 world.

The Economics of COVID-19: How to Build the New Normal (UPDATED)

by D.J. McGuire

Today, Americans are undergoing dramatic social and economic changes as a result of the coronavirus, with some of the more dramatic affects still to come.

The crisis will either “go big” (a massive spike in cases that overwhelms our medical industry and forces life-and-death choices on a massive scale) or “go long” (an extended period of social distancing to prevent the former). I shouldn’t comment very much on the medical impacts, as I am not an expert in the field, and I have grown in humility to the point where I will avoid commenting where I think I shouldn’t.

The economic impacts, however, are also dramatic, and here I’d like to think I can offer more useful advice and ideas. There are calls for a very dramatic increase in government spending, which is understandable. However, we can also make sure that the economic assistance that is planned can be done in ways that preserve the concept of limited and efficient government.

Moving from the Welfare State to a Negative Income Tax

One thing this crisis should do is force a complete review of the 20th-century welfare system currently in place. A system incentivizing people to work for someone else may have made sense in the large-industry era of the 1950s, but with small business formation on a downward slope even before COVID-19, it is no longer fit for purpose. We need to ask ourselves if we really want a large and intrusive government taxing the rich for the purpose of regulating the poor.

In the short term, this can be addressed via either direct payments to Americans or (as I would prefer) an expanded unemployment insurance system that allows for 100 percent of lost wages paid and removes employment-search requirements. Whichever option is taken (and it is likely Congress will use both), they can and should be used to transform our current patchwork of programs into a simple Negative Income Tax as proposed by Milton Friedman. This would ensure government aid to those hard on their luck is more efficiently sent, less expensive to taxpayers, and no longer discouraging entrepreneurship.

If the Fed insists on lending, let more businesses borrow from them

Of course, the above reform won’t mean much to businesses that are in trouble as a result of social distancing. Many industries have been asking for bailouts. Ironically (but understandably), the American people are much more likely to support aid to businesses that are too small to make their voices heard. Meanwhile, there are already arguments about whether the funds should be given as loans, equity purchases, or no-strings payments.

While I reserve the right to change my view on this particular matter, it appears to me that one option is being overlooked: the Federal Reserve. To be clear, I have problems with the Fed’s recent actions. I don’t think moving away from interest rate normalization was particularly helpful (and if the Dow Jones was any indication, I’m not alone).

Nor do I think the de facto return to quantitative easing makes sense from a monetary policy perspective. However, if the Fed is determined to monetize debt wherever it can be found, we should make it easier for smaller businesses to sell bonds. Larger corporations should find it quite easy to loan to a lend-mad Fed (indeed, this is reason enough for any discussion of corporate “bailouts” to be given serious skepticism). Smaller firms shouldn’t be left out of the buying spree. This doesn’t necessarily rule out the need for temporary government support for small businesses, but it should at the very least make it less urgent.

Regarding Health Care Economics: End COPN and Re-engineer Medicaid

One of biggest factors in the push for social distancing has been the danger of overwhelming our health care capacity. If health care supply is a concern (and it is), governments need to get out of the business of restricting it. Certificate of Public Need regimes have been shown to make health outcomes worse even before COVID-19 showed up. The idea that any future hospital or health care facility needs to prove a “need” in the aftermath of COVID-19 is patently absurd.

UPDATE: Governor Northam suspended COPN requirements for hospitals to add beds over the weekend (Patch).

That said, the health care market has one unique characteristic that leads to trouble – a complete lack of credit checks for services rendered. Hospitals in Virginia have complained about this for years – mainly, as the excuse for maintaining COPN to compensate them with oligopolistic power. It has also been one of the reasons hospitals tend to be more sanguine about government-provided universal health insurance (albeit not in a manner as unrealistic as “Medicare for all”).

Unfortunately, much of the discussion about health insurance has been focused on the unique problems of poor Americans, rather than the unique problems of sick Americans. In property and casualty insurance, there is no such confusion: the threat of flooding is such a danger that private insurers won’t touch it unless it’s via the National Flood Insurance Program.

A similar mindset in health insurance would dramatically improve the industry. It would allow healthy Americans (including poor Americans) the chance to buy insurance they could use, while the government would provide a backstop for Americans with problematic health conditions. If initial reports on COVID-19 are accurate, many more Americans will fall into the latter category as a result of the virus. Shifting government-supported health insurance from income to illness would be more practical and more sensible.

Limited government can survive the pandemic, but like everything else, it must adapt

The above measures would, I hope, enable government to be dynamic enough to address the economic effects of the crisis without sacrificing either the dynamism of freer markets or the concept of limited government. Yes, government spending and power will grow in some ways, but they can (and should) be reduced in others. If we do this right, we can transform and revitalize our governments, rather than merely expand them.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Covid-16 Is Infecting 2020

By Kevin Kelton

You wouldn’t knowingly risk infecting someone important to you with the coronavirus. Yet millions of thoughtless Democrats are infecting their party’s presumptive nominee.

Every day, we see reckless Democrats passing on the germs of dirty politics to Joe Biden. They selfishly cough up words like “dementia,” “handsy,” “corporate-owned,” and even high-risk terms like “pedophile” into the air of social media, spreading those deadly labels into the body politic, much like was done to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Let’s be clear: Joe Biden is not Hillary. But he is just as suseptible to the same gutter character attacks that made millions of normally Democratic voters avoid the polls that year, killing her candidacy. It could be called Covid-16, and it was just as deadly as coronavirus germs are on your unwashed hands.

Four years later, it’s time for disappointed progressive voters to face reality. Whether you supportered Sanders or Warren or Buttigieg or Yang, Biden is going to be the Democratic candidate this Fall. He earned it fair and square, pulling off one of the greatest political comebacks in history. Not only did his one-on-one debate with Sanders prove he isn’t hobbled by age, it clearly demonstrated his mettle as a viable candidate and a strong leader.

And with his latest thumping of Sanders across Florida, Illinois, and Arizona (along with Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia, Texas, and North Carolina) he proved he can replicate the same coalitions that led to the blue wave of 2018. There is little doubt Biden will continue that success in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, and probably Wisconsin – virtually running the table in the swing states the party will need to hold come November 3.

Consider a second Trump term the political equivalent of the coronavirus, because it could literally kill thousands of LGBTs, Dreamers, seniors, pregnant women, service members, undocumented immigrants, POC, and other high-risk groups. Every time you infect Joe’s reputation with claims he may be suffering from dementia or some similarly untrue character smear, you risk spreading that idea to others. Your Facebook friends read it, then they spread it to their friends, and they spread it, until you have an epidemic of people turning off to Biden and staying home in November.

You might as well go phonebank for Trump, because that’s exactly what you’re doing with your social media posts.

It’s time for progressives to put some social media distance between them and the virus of hate that can kill our party’s chances in November. Irresponsible character attacks are our Covid-20. If you chose to be a carrier and infect this election cycle like so many did in 2016, don’t be surprised when you send your dearest issues – climate change, reproductive rights, economic inequality, and LGBT rights – to an early grave.

Kevin Kelton is the founder of the Open Fire community of Facebook discussion groups and a cohost of The More Perfect Union Podcast.