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Mid-Day Digest

Apr. 7, 2020

THE FOUNDATION

“The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” —Thomas Jefferson (1816)

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IN TODAY’S DIGEST

FEATURED ANALYSIS

Small Businesses Find Gov’t Help Is Never Easy

Nate Jackson

Congress authorized the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) as part of its massive $2.2 trillion CARES Act, meant as an economic lifeline for millions of Americans. As with all things the government touches, however, there’s now a bureaucratic train wreck.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is backing the PPP, which, in short, works this way: Beginning last Friday, small businesses could apply at participating local banks for loans to cover qualifying payroll, health-insurance premiums, and a handful of other approved expenses over an eight-week period. Various and sundry documentation is required to prove both the need up front and then the use of the money after the fact. If certain conditions are met, the loan will be forgiven. If not, it’s a two-year loan at 1% interest. The obvious intent is to save millions of jobs by keeping businesses solvent.

Easy peasy, right?

Not so much. The attached strings are never actually one-size-fits-all, for one thing. Moreover, the system wasn’t ready for the demand, in part because the PPP doesn’t fit with previous loan-compliance protocols. The Treasury Department didn’t issue guidelines until Thursday night before the program opened on Friday morning, and the SBA’s online system crashed under the immediate flood of applications. A normal year means about $30 billion in SBA loans; it’s processing 10 times as much in a matter of weeks, if not mere days.

The SBA acknowledged in an email to lenders Monday, “We know that your efforts have been frustrated with system issues, policy questions and slower than usual responses.” That’s putting it mildly.

Fixes are underway, but time is of the essence. “You’re talking about something here that is $350 billion, has no precedence, has never been done before,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). “You’ve got to create this massive program and its rules in six days and launch it. Anytime you do it that way, of course you’re going to have some issues, but we have no choice. This is an emergency situation. And when you do things in an emergency situation, they’re going to be far less than perfect.”

Even as the relevant folks work out the horrible kinks in the system, Congress and the president are already talking about another round of similar federal aid, including more money for the PPP because there’s no way $350 billion will be sufficient through the end of June — in no small measure because a few big businesses can now apply.

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Remember When… George W. Bush Demanded Pandemic Preparedness?

Mark Alexander

Memo to all those Leftmedia armchair experts who are promoting the Democrats’ political pandemic agenda, using their selective 20/20 hindsight to second-guess the actions taken by the White House CV19 Task Force over the last three months: Do you remember when…?

Back in 2005, then-President George W. Bush was very determined to have Congress understand how serious the pandemic threat was, and he outlined the actions our nation needed to take in order to be better prepared.

In a speech to the National Institutes of Health, Bush, who had become increasingly alarmed after reading about the 1918 pandemic (historian John Barry’s The Great Influenza), made it his mission to ramp up our preparedness at all levels of government.

As I have noted previously, for more than three decades when I held executive appointments related to continuity of government and evaluated threats to that continuity, pandemic planning was always front and center in our preparedness exercises for both civilian and military leaders — understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all plan, and any plan on the table has to be fluid.

Bush was determined to implement a more comprehensive pandemic plan, and according to his Homeland Security advisor, Fran Townsend, over the remaining three years of his second term, Bush largely did that. For example, he launched the nation’s Pandemic Flu website, still a primary preparedness resource today. Bush’s proposed federal and state plan included a $7 billion budget.

Notably, among those attending President Bush’s 2005 conference was Dr. Anthony Fauci, now leading the White House CV19 Task Force. He was first appointed to the National Institutes of Health by Ronald Reagan in 1984, and he has served through the successive administrations to this day.

According to President Bush at that time: “A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire. If caught early it might be extinguished with limited damage. If allowed to smolder, undetected, it can grow to an inferno that can spread quickly beyond our ability to control it.”

In the context of the current CV19 pandemic scenario, the forest fire began on the other side of the planet, and its invisible embers were falling on our country months before China reported the fire — and before we knew those embers were igniting fires here — meaning there was no chance of containing them.

To Bush’s point about early detection, the most condemning evidence of China’s abject negligence is that pandemic researchers now estimate that if Xi Jinping had informed the world about the China Virus outbreak three weeks earlier than he did, it would have reduced the spread by 95%.

Notably, and to his credit, Bush said: “To respond to a pandemic, we need medical personnel and adequate supplies of equipment. In a pandemic, everything from syringes to hospital beds, respirators masks and protective equipment would be in short supply.” He also said, “If a pandemic strikes, our country must have a surge capacity in place that will allow us to bring a new vaccine on line quickly and manufacture enough to immunize every American against the pandemic strain.”

He concluded: “If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare. And one day many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to act today. By preparing now, we can give our citizens some peace of mind knowing that our nation is ready to act at the first sign of danger, and that we have the plans in place to prevent and, if necessary, withstand an influenza pandemic.”

So what happened?

The Bush plan was sound, as was his planned preparedness spending. But in eight long years under the regime of Barack Obama, despite the national-security planning we were doing related to biothreats, pandemic preparedness was never his administration’s priority. That being said, I would not blame Obama so much as I would the entrenchment of non-defense federal bureaucracies, which are geared to spend for what they need today rather than develop biodefense capacity for what our nation would need in the future.

I recall in 2012 reviewing a seminal and highly regarded Rand National Security Survey that concluded the most significant threat among all those arrayed against the U.S. — one “capable of destroying America’s way of life” — was a pandemic. But, on emerging diseases and pandemic preparedness, the Obama administration spent less than 1% of what we were spending on the Global War on Terrorism.

For the record, a decade ago, I would have estimated that the catastrophic threat of a rogue nation detonating a nuclear weapon within the U.S. was, statistically, greater than the threat of a catastrophic global pandemic. But our successful nuclear-weapon mitigation, nonproliferation, and interdiction efforts since the 9/11 Islamist attack on our nation have proven me wrong.

But at the same time, I also estimated that the potential consequences of a pandemic threat in terms of human lives and economic impact was much greater than the nuclear threat. That is precisely why, many years ago, we developed and published a comprehensive resource page on Disaster Preparedness Planning for a pandemic, including a Two-Step Individual Readiness Plan and a section on how to shelter in place. I believed then (demonstrably now) that all Americans should maintain a reasonable capability to shelter in place, particularly in the early phase of a disaster, because federal, state, and local governments will not have the resources to respond adequately.

Over the last 30 years, more than a few of my colleagues have considered the “insurance costs” of advance planning to be unnecessary. One silver lining as a result of the current CV19 pandemic, however, is that more Americans will demand our government be better prepared next time (and there will be a next time), and more Americans will, themselves, be prepared.

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Beijing Delayed Virus Alert Partly to Corner PPE Market

Thomas Gallatin

It should be universally accepted that authoritarian states never play fair. If anyone doubted this truism, the actions of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing throughout this China Virus pandemic should put that to rest. Not only are the ChiComs guilty of covering up their failed early attempts to contain the virus, thus allowing it to spread across the globe, they also engaged in a massive effort to control and limit soon-to-be-needed medical supplies.

“We know that China knew about the virus as early as mid-December,” White House trade adviser Peter Navarro asserts. “We know that for a period of about five to six weeks they hid the dangers from the rest of the world even as Chinese citizens were flying around the world seeding the world with the virus.”

What was the motive behind Beijing’s delay? Navarro argues one aspect of it: “It looks like during that interval, China was basically attempting to corner the market in personal protective equipment including masks. So they were buying large quantities of masks, gloves, goggles, respirators from the rest of the world at a time when the world was still sleeping with respect to the dangers of the virus.”

Navarro points out that between January 24 and the end of February, China bought 2.2 billion face masks. “Americans are getting infected because they don’t have the masks. Italians are dying because they don’t have masks. Healthcare professionals are going down,” Navarro observes. “If those statistics are telling a story about China basically going out and trying to corner the world market in PPE when they knew the dangers and didn’t tell the rest of the world, I think that’s a significant discussion we need to have, at least after this is all over, because that’s a serious matter.”

The New York Post reports, “Leading US manufacturers of medical safety gear told the White House that China prohibited them from exporting their products from the country as the coronavirus pandemic mounted — even as Beijing was trying to ‘corner the world market’ in personal protective equipment.” Specifically, U.S. companies 3M and Honeywell were prohibited by Beijing from moving their own inventory, produced in China, to the States. The fact that China was buying up and hoarding PPE may have been the primary reason behind President Donald Trump’s invoking the Defense Protection Act and forbidding the export of anymore PPE.

Meanwhile, U.S. entrepreneurs eager to manufacture desperately needed PPE here in the States are running into regulatory hurdles, slowing their ability to respond during this crisis. Evidently, whether the tape is American or Chinese, it’s still red.

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Why Is Gas Suddenly So Cheap?

Lewis Morris

An emergency meeting among the top global oil producers that was set to take place Monday was pushed back to later in the week as the oil-price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia continues. The two countries have been engaged in this conflict since early March, with neither apparently willing to accept production cuts that each believes will give the other country an unfair price advantage.

President Donald Trump has attempted to mediate the dispute, and his word carries weight as the U.S. position as a top oil producer has risen substantially since he took office. Last week, he recommended cuts to Russian and Saudi production, and his public suggestion that a truce could be worked out was enough to stimulate a record-breaking 25% jump in oil prices. Meanwhile, a meeting the president held with American energy producers on Friday failed to generate any signal that the U.S. is willing to ratchet back domestic oil production. Gains quickly dematerialized and further upset any potential for a deal to be reached.

The China Virus outbreak has driven down global demand significantly since March, with many countries severely limiting transportation and travel. Prices began plummeting, however, when the Saudis and the Russians entered a game of chicken in which both countries raised their oil output. The resulting global glut has had a negative effect on oil producers worldwide.

Russian oil producers have appealed to Vladimir Putin to reach a deal, but don’t count on that happening anytime soon. Putin sees an opportunity to use this crisis to gain leverage over the Saudis and the U.S. at the same time. He’s hoping that if he continues to hold out, the Saudis may be forced to cut production unilaterally, leaving Russia with the opportunity to both take advantage of the resulting higher prices and sell more oil proportionally on the global markets.

Likewise, Putin is hoping that the continued collapse in oil prices will devastate U.S. production of shale oil, which, thanks to fracking, has given the U.S. leverage on the global market. As long as U.S. fracking continues, Russia’s ability to dominate world energy markets will be squelched.

Putin’s gamble is already causing problems with the Russian economy because the country relies heavily on oil for revenue. Since he is essentially president for life, though, Putin is virtually impervious to domestic political blowback.

The American shale-oil market may be stronger than Putin thinks, but it cannot hold out forever. While oil at $20 per barrel is a nice boon for consumers, it’s based on a production schedule that won’t hold when the economy returns to normal, which it will. Trump has suggested placing tariffs on foreign oil to protect U.S. suppliers, though this does have a massive downside: Most of America’s imported oil comes from Canada, not the Middle East, and we could end up harming economic relations with our biggest trading partner with little to show in return. Additionally, U.S. refineries must import heavy crude to mix with domestic shale oil. Tariffs could lead to higher production costs without being balanced out by higher prices for shale oil.

We hope Trump concludes tariffs won’t be necessary. There is still a chance that a deal can be reached, but what shape it will take remains to be seen.

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COVID-19 Is Casus Belli With Status Quo at UN

Harold Hutchison

While dealing with the Wuhan coronavirus is taking up a lot of America’s attention, it doesn’t mean we should avoid thinking about the future. The fact of the matter is that while we have to hold the People’s Republic of China accountable, the Butchers of Beijing are not the only ones who bear a great deal of blame for that outbreak becoming a global pandemic.

There needs to be a long look at the World Health Organization, which was an accessory to the cover-up that emerged from what was, at best, reckless disregard for, if not a depraved indifference to, people’s lives that seems to permeate the Beijing regime. Even after Taiwan warned the WHO of the risk of human-to-human transmission of COVID-19, the WHO was still citing the Chinese Communist claims that there was no evidence of such transmission.

Right now, the United States pays roughly $331 million every two years to the WHO, half in dollars, half in Swiss francs. The WHO even sends invoices. Barring some serious changes, including (but not limited to) the resignation of the director-general (with a parting gift of a wakizashi wrapped in rice paper) and the immediate inclusion of Taiwan as a full member, this invoice should be challenged.

For $331 million, at the very least the WHO should be reliably reporting data and calling out countries that create pandemics by covering up outbreaks. The fact is, we have seen a massive breach of trust. We could fund far more in terms of securing America from threats than paying those dues to an unreformed WHO.

But the WHO is only part of the United Nations that has many of the same flaws. The same regime that lied to the world about COVID-19 is now on the Human Rights Commission. It’s as if the Uigher concentration camps and slave labor don’t exist. Or Tiananmen Square never happened, even though we have footage of the massacre taking place.

All the while, Taiwan, a country with free and fair elections, is excluded. This can no longer be seen as an acceptable situation from the United Nations. Then again, Taiwan is not the only situation that should change at the UN — there is also the constant bullying of Israel that needs to end. After all, America donated the land for the UN headquarters, America pays a good chunk of the UN’s bills … and what do we get for that money?

An organization under UN auspices aided Communist China in a cover-up that has resulted in thousands of Americans dying and tens of thousands being sickened. Even after it’s clear to a reasonable person that Communist China has lied, the WHO still parrots Beijing’s propaganda. We see allies getting bullied. Another functional democracy is systemically excluded. Regimes that imprison, torture, and kill people over religious observance sit on a council intended to promote human rights.

We deserve a heck of a lot more from the UN than what we’re getting for our money, and the failures that led to thousands of American dead are cause for a figurative war to reform that body. If the UN can’t make the serious reforms needed — or worse (and more likely), if it refuses to do so — America needs to be willing to take decisive action, including, if necessary, walking away from that rotten body, and maybe turning its headquarters into a hotel and convention center.

At least then there would be something highly functional in that building.

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U.S. Offers Airline Industry a Faustian Bargain

Thomas Gallatin

With millions of Americans laid off and struggling to make ends meet as the China Virus pandemic continues into the foreseeable future, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, dubbed the CARES Act, dropping $2.2 trillion in an attempt to provide help. One of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic has been the airlines, which lost an estimated 95% of traffic as Americans everywhere obey orders to avoid crowds and now, in most states, shelter in place. The airline industry directly represents 5% of the U.S. economy, and that’s not accounting for all other industries and companies that rely upon the airlines for their own businesses to fully function. In other words, keeping the airlines solvent is a top concern.

So, the CARES Act offers to bail out the airline industry in the form of grants. These grants are not loans, so there will be no requirement that they be paid back. There has been debate as to the wisdom of this move. Allowing airlines to skip the bailout and file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection instead would effectively allow them to continue to operate as many did between 2002 and 2011 until they return to profitability. The obvious problem with this approach is that it would necessitate significant layoffs, thus risking exacerbating the pandemic fallout. The grants, on the other hand, would preserve workers’ jobs.

However, one major problem baked into this deal has many rightly objecting. It’s a classic example of the government taking advantage of a crisis to expand its power. For every airline company that takes grant money, the federal government gets up to a 2% stake in the company. The Washington Examiner’s Matthew Whitaker explains why this is a problem: “Why would airlines not want the government to own stock? For the same reason any other business would be uncomfortable with the idea: It is hard for the government to be a neutral, private sector owner of equity. This is a particular problem for the airline industry. After all, this industry is heavily regulated by the government. If bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., are now partial owners of our airlines, they are in the difficult (and possibly unethical) position of regulating an industry in which they have a financial stake.”

This is a setup that’s rife for abuse — both for those airline companies that take government grants and also for those that choose not to. The government will inevitably seek to regulate in a manner that favors the companies in which it is invested. Whitaker offers an example of this potential government abuse, writing, “Consider this: Would the government have a shareholder vote if two airlines decided to merge in the coming year? And if it did vote for the merger, how would that square with the Federal Trade Commission’s merger approval process? Which government agency, the Treasury Department or the FTC, would win out?” That is just one example of the can of worms this situation presents.

If the government makes the rules, it effectively gets to legalize its own cheating. Americans need to keep a close eye on this Faustian bargain with an aim to, if at all possible, undo it in the future.

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NEWS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Jordan Candler

The Latest on Coronavirus

  • The steep rise in coronavirus deaths appeared to be leveling off Monday in hard-hit New York (AP)

  • Austria and Denmark are first in Europe to announce easing of lockdowns (The Washington Post)

  • Researchers lower fatality projections in model used by White House (The Daily Caller)

  • Trump approves USNS Comfort to treat New York patients (UPI)

  • Communist sympathizers at WHO demand abortion be considered “essential” healthcare services during pandemic (The Daily Wire)

  • Trump nominates White House lawyer Brian Miller to serve as Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (The Daily Caller)

Government & Politics

  • Pelosi says next stimulus boondoggle will be $1 trillion or more (Bloomberg)

  • “I appreciate his calling”: Trump says he and Biden had a “warm conversation” about coronavirus (Washington Examiner)

  • Trump asks reporter if she’s working for the Chinese government after pro-Beijing questions. Sure enough, her agency is a front for the CCP. (The Daily Caller)

  • Bring back Scott Walker: Wisconsin Supreme Court overturns governor’s gamesmanship, orders Tuesday elections to proceed (Politico)

  • Hillary Clinton can’t duck out of Benghazi testimony by citing official privilege, State Department says (PJ Media)

National Security

Economy & Heartland

  • Rise in searches for “How to set fire” a sign insurance fraud beckons as economy crashes (Washington Examiner)

  • Auto insurers rightfully refunding millions due to stay-at-home policies (Fox News)

  • Erick Erickson celebrates act of charity. Leftist malcontents accuse him of erecting “burning cross.” (PJ Media)

  • District court upholds closing of Los Angeles-area gun shops (The Volokh Conspiracy)

Closing Arguments

For more of today’s editors’ choice headlines, visit In Our Sights.

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VIDEOS

Video: Postpone Election to Dodge Pandemic? — Over the Constitution’s dead body!

Video: Why Are So Many Americans in Prison? — Some states are using the coronavirus pandemic to double down on granting early release to thousands of prisoners.

Video: Some Good News With John Krasinski — Major help on the way for healthcare workers, hot meals for furloughed service-industry employees, and more.

BEST OF RIGHT OPINION

For more of today’s columns, visit Right Opinion.

SHORT CUTS

Insight: “Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.” —Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Upright: “The beauty of doing nothing is that you can do it perfectly. Only when you do something is it almost impossible to do it without mistakes. Therefore people who are contributing nothing to society, except their constant criticisms, can feel both intellectually and morally superior.” —Thomas Sowell

For the record: “More people will die, even in the worst projections, from cigarette smoking in this country than are going to die from coronavirus this year.” —U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams

Food for thought: “Our national media is ROOTING for hydroxycloroquine to not work as a treatment for #Covid_19. Think about that.” —Matt Mackowiak

Nailed it: “It were up to me, the whole world should send China a bill for the pandemic.” —Sen. Lindsey Graham

The BIG Lie: “You know, 45 nations had already moved to … block China’s personnel from being able to come to the United States before the president moved.” —Joe Biden

Non compos mentis: “These viruses … have no borders. You can’t build a wall. You can’t … have, you know, people at the border trying to stop it. It’s beyond that capacity.” —Joe Biden

Village idiot: “For so long, the go-to has been not to believe [women]. So really, we have to sort of societally change that mindset to believing women, but that does not mean at the expense of not giving men their due process. I don’t feel comfortable throwing away a decent man that I’ve known for 15 years.” —Brett Kavanaugh inquisitor Alyssa Milano exonerating Joe Biden

Alpha jackass: “Okay, people, just because Jesus is on your side doesn’t mean you can’t get sick. Don’t forget, Jesus was on Jesus’s side and he died, okay? Yeah, He came back, but that was like a one-time thing. … And you know it’s funny how a lot of these same people who say Jesus will protect them from coronavirus are the same people stocking up on guns. I don’t get it. Won’t the blood of Jesus protect you from an intruder?” —Trevor Noah

Dezinformatsiya: “For the last couple of weeks when I walk into this building and I get in front of this camera, I swear I feel like I’m in the movie ‘Network.’ I feel like Howard Beale. Americans are mad as hell. What are you going to — how much more can Americans take? Every single day berating people, lying. First it’s a hoax. And then ‘All along I knew it was serious and I knew it was a pandemic.’ How much more — how many people have to die?” —CNN’s Don Lemon

And last… “TV news … sounds like this: NEWSPERSON: Coronavirus! Coronavirus! Coronavirus! For more on this, here is a different newsperson located somewhere else for safety reasons. DIFFERENT NEWSPERSON: Coronavirus! Coronavirus! Coronavirus! Now back to you. NEWSPERSON: Thank you. Coronavirus! Coronavirus! Corona … And so on, 24 hours a day. Sometimes 30 hours a day. That’s how much coronavirus (Coronavirus!) news there is.” —Dave Barry

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