On the menu today: America’s Center for Disease Control warns that this virus may well be with us for some time; Nevada Democrats struggle to straighten out issues before their caucuses next week; and some people can’t decide what they think about Bill Barr.
CDC: The Coronavirus Is Probably with Us Beyond This Year
Feel free to come back and tell me I’m wrong at the end of the year, but I think that if the presidential race is the No. 1 story of 2020, then No. 1A will be the coronavirus.
Yes, we’ve been through H1N1 and swine flu and various other outbreaks that came and went without having a significant impact on the life of the average American. This is different. The calmer-than-thou declaration that “more people die of the flu each year than the coronavirus has killed so far” is a non-sequitur. Nobody locks down the world’s largest cities, shuts down air travel, or turns away cruise ships over the flu. (I think we had a National Review cruise on the Westerdam a couple of years ago.)
Besides, almost all of our information about the coronavirus’s impact comes from a notoriously dishonest authoritarian government. While it’s possible the Chinese government might overstate the number of cases, it’s much more likely they would understate the number of cases. Or perhaps they’re freaked out enough to be honest in these circumstances. The numbers they’re releasing indicate the situation is getting worse:
China disclosed on Friday that 1,716 medical workers have contracted the virus and six of them have died…
Numbers continued to climb after the government changed the criteria by which it tracks confirmed cases. China on Friday reported 5,090 new coronavirus cases and 121 new deaths in the previous 24 hours.
The authorities said a total of 63,851 people had been infected by the coronavirus and at least 1,380 people had been killed by the disease. Most of the cases occurred in Hubei, the center of the outbreak, which recorded 4,823 new cases and 116 deaths over the same period.
Besides the virus itself, there is the potential danger from panic. “A Hong Kong clinic designated to treat suspected coronavirus cases suffered a second arson attack early Friday, officials said.”
Regarding the rumor that the coronavirus is some sort of Chinese bioweapon that was accidentally released, perhaps from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, national-security adviser Robert O’Brien offered the somewhat surprising answer that the U.S. government doesn’t know one way or another. “I’ve seen those reports, and Twitter and the internet are alive with them. I don’t have any information on that one way or the other, so we just don’t know. I can’t comment on that.”
The coronavirus probably wasn’t cooked up in a lab somewhere, because virologists have been predicting this sort of thing for a long time. In 2017, National Geographic offered an eye-opening article that laid out how China had inadvertently set up the perfect environment for viruses to spread from animals to people:
Officially, the live-bird markets in Beijing have been shuttered for years. In reality, guerrilla vendors run furtive slaughterhouses throughout this national capital of wide avenues, gleaming architecture and more than 20 million residents—despite warnings that their businesses could be spreading deadly new strains of the flu.
Many Chinese people, even city dwellers, insist that freshly slaughtered poultry is tastier and more healthful than refrigerated or frozen meat. This is one of the major reasons China has been such a hot spot for new influenza viruses: Nowhere else on earth do so many people have such close contact with so many birds.
At least two flu pandemics in the past century — in 1957 and 1968 — originated in the Middle Kingdom and were triggered by avian viruses that evolved to become easily transmissible between humans. Although health authorities have increasingly tried to ban the practice, 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.”
These areas — often poorly ventilated, with multiple species jammed together — create ideal conditions for spreading disease through shared water utensils or airborne droplets of blood and other secretions. “That provides opportunities for viruses to spread in closely packed quarters, allowing ‘amplification’ of the viruses,” says Benjamin John Cowling, a specialist in medical statistics at the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health. “The risk to humans becomes so much higher.”
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield is warning us that this isn’t going to go away anytime soon. “We don’t know a lot about this virus. This virus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold and we will get community-based transmission.”
Nevada, the Rest of America Needs You to Pull Yourself Together
Come on, Nevada. No matter how much I enjoy watching Democrats fall flat on their faces, I prefer for our country’s elections to be free, fair, transparent, and well-run. Vladimir Putin wants Americans to believe all their elections are corrupt shams. Nevadans, please don’t mess up the upcoming caucus.
With the Nevada Democratic caucuses only a week away, both caucus workers and presidential campaigns are worried about the lack of detail the state party is providing about how the results reporting process will work.
The worries come after the state party stopped working with Shadow Inc., the company behind the app whose “coding errors” were at the heart of the chaos of the Iowa caucuses.
Having scrapped plans to use a pair of Shadow’s apps, the parties will instead use a “caucus calculator,” as outlined in a new memo released by the Nevada State Democratic Party Thursday. Described as “user friendly,” the calculator will be used to add early voting data into each precinct and calculate totals on caucus day, February 22, along with paper work sheets.
The tool, which the party does not consider an app, will be available on iPads owned by the party and “accessed through a secure Google web form.”
But caucus volunteers have yet to get their hands on the calculator even though they’re the ones expected to use it on caucus day, and they have been given few details about it, according to three caucus workers who spoke to CNN this week.
Separately, before we all collectively choose to forget about the Iowa Democratic caucuses . . .
In Iowa, African Americans are 4 percent of the population.
In New Hampshire, African Americans are 1.7 percent of the population.
In Nevada, African Americans are 10 percent of the population.
In South Carolina, African Americans are 27 percent of the population.
If the first two states to vote in the Democratic presidential primary process were Nevada and South Carolina, instead of Iowa and New Hampshire, would Joe Biden still be the frontrunner?
If You Liked William Barr Wednesday, You Shouldn’t Hate Him Today
Whenever a new attorney general gets appointed and confirmed, you hear comments about the unique nature of the position. It is a law-enforcement position, and it is also a political appointment. The nature of government — its power, the money involved, and the kinds of people attracted to power — make it nearly inevitable that some people involved in politics will be charged with crimes. Sometimes those accusations will be legitimate, sometimes they will be false nonsense, and sometimes they will be somewhere in the middle — actions that are legal but unethical, actions that follow the letter of the law but violate the spirit, and so on.
There is no such thing as a perfectly apolitical attorney general; every attorney general faces accusations from the opposition party that they’ve put their thumb on the scale or let partisan politics sway their judgment: Janet Reno, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, Michael Mukasey, Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch, Jeff Sessions. The attorney general is supposed to be a nonpartisan enforcer of law and even-handed, clear-eyed prosecutor of crimes. He is also simultaneously a cabinet official for a president who has a clear point of view about how the Department of Justice should operate, which prosecutions should be prioritized, and so on.
But the man who appoints the attorney general, and whom he answers to, wears those same two hats. The president is head of the executive branch, and that includes the Department of Justice. The president is not a cop, but he can set the policy course for the DOJ — “we are announcing a new initiative today to target and prosecute [insert crime here].”
All presidents feel like the opposition party is a bunch of crooks, and that their friends and political allies who have been accused of crimes are getting a raw deal. We always judge the people we like by a gentler standard and our foes by a harsher standard. It is not surprising that Donald Trump thinks Roger Stone is unfairly accused — as well as all of his former campaign staffers prosecuted by Mueller.
Past presidents mostly kept their complaints, grumbling, and desires to protect their friends and prosecute their political foes limited to fuming or rants behind closed doors, away from the eyes and ears of the public. The functioning of our constitutional government, with the separation of powers among three branches, required all of the players involved to respect — not necessarily agree with, but respect — the decisions of the others. The Department of Justice needs to be seen as an impartial prosecutor of crimes, not as a taxpayer-funded extension of the president’s legal team.
Yesterday, Attorney General Bill Barr — who as of Wednesday, just about every Trump fan would have said had been exactly the kind of pugnacious, uncompromising, direct, and clear attorney general that President Trump wanted — declared in a televised interview that Trump’s constant tweets about ongoing criminal cases were making his job “impossible.” He didn’t insult the president. He didn’t attack the president. He just laid out a fact — that it was impossible for Department of Justice staff to go about their duties when they knew that any decision that Trump didn’t like could set off an extremely public tirade from the man who sat atop the executive branch.
“To have public statements made about the department or the people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department and about judges before whom we have cases,” Barr said, “make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors within the department that we’re doing our work with integrity . . . I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”
As you have no doubt noticed, many people in our political realm operate on the postulation “Trump is always right” and work backwards from there. Trump was a genius to hire Omarosa, Anthony Scaramucci, and Michael Cohen, who were among “the very best people,” right up until the moment they parted ways, and then those oddball characters were terrible. No matter how glaringly obvious a hire’s flaws were, Trump’s fans dance around the fact that the president thought hiring them was a good idea in the first place. Almost everyone Trump hires goes through the same process: John Kelly, Gary Cohn, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Rex Tillerson, Ty Cobb — the moment they’re out the door, they’re publicly revealing that Trump was an egregiously flawed president who ran a dysfunctional or barely functional White House. Every time, Trump jumps onto Twitter to call them dogs, to insist they begged for the job, that he had only hired them out of a foolish sense of sympathy or mercy, insisting that the hires constantly screwed up and did a terrible job until Trump had no choice but to fire them (although he always has a surrogate communicate the bad news). Very, very rarely does anyone who is a fan of Trump acknowledge that he’s the one who keeps hiring these apparently horrifically flawed personnel.
Fresh off declaring that John Bolton was “a tool for the left,” Fox Business Channel’s Lou Dobbs has decided that Barr is now moved over to the list of villains over his comments. “I am so disappointed in Bill Barr . . . I have to say this — it’s a damn shame when he doesn’t get what this president has gone through, and what the American people have gone through and what his charge is as attorney general . . . To hear this attorney general complain about this president, who is fighting every one of those damn people to do the right thing and get this country straightened out and it’s mission to do so, not to carp about his boss.”
Earlier in the week, Dobbs said, “Bill Barr is doing the Lord’s work.”
ADDENDA: Damon Linker, contemplating a Donald Trump–Mike Bloomberg matchup: “What it really is — all of it — is an expression of the shared outlook of New York City’s billionaire masters-of-the-universe overlord class. America should be able to do better than swapping one oligarch for another. It better be able to do better than that. It’s up to Democratic voters to prove it.”
. . . Hey, remember impeachment? Remember when that was going to be one of the most consequential acts of Trump’s presidency?