Since the Wisconsin Legislature v. Palm decision ended Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide shelter-in-place order on May 13, local governments across the state have been attempting to pass their own emergency public health ordinances, giving unelected bureaucrats vast authority and unrestrained powers to combat disease.
Some officials claim that state law gives them the express authority to enact an ordinance identical to the unconstitutional Safer At Home order, but local residents all over the state are voicing their concern. Residents are alarmed by the unprecedented command and control these ordinances would have over their lives and livelihoods.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled last month that DHS Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm violated the government rulemaking process when she unilaterally extended Wisconsin’s Safer at Home lockdown order. The Court determined that Palm’s order, because it was applied generally to all Wisconsinites and not in a targeted fashion, was actually a rule and needed to follow the standard rules process with legislative oversight.
Some local units of government apparently have contacted Evers’ office since the ruling, looking for help on what can be done at the county level.
“We’ve received a number of requests from public health officers for guidance on this and so we provided information, including examples of what they can look at,” said Evers’ chief legal council Ryan Nilsestuen the day after the state Supreme Court ruling. “But this will be a local decision.”
A day after Nilsestuen’s statement, Attorney General Josh Kaul released a legal opinion on how the Court decision might affect the powers of local public health officials.
Kaul’s opinion said that the powers of local health officials are unaffected because “the court decision addressed a different statute applicable to a state agency, and not the statute applicable to local authorities.” Kaul highlighted the powers that local health officials already have under Wis. Stat. 252.03 and cautioned counties to tread carefully on making criminal penalties for violating a public health ordinance.
Now, a wave of county ordinances are being taken up across Wisconsin that give local public health officials great power.
The Marathon County ordinance is specifically tailored to controlling COVID-19. Others are more broad, applying to any communicable disease.
All of the ordinances allow the local health official to “take all measures necessary to prevent, suppress and control communicable diseases,” and “forbid public gatherings when deemed necessary to control outbreaks or epidemics.”
Dodge County references in their ordinance that these powers given to public health officers come from Wis. Stat. Chapter 252, which includes the power to hire quarantine guards. Dodge doesn’t mention quarantine guards by name in their ordinance.
The orders don’t say what specifically qualifies as a “place of quarantine.” For all we know, these could be hired security guards standing outside of your home or business.
One Marathon County supervisor actually floated the idea using this broad power to force infected people to wear an ankle bracelet. The idea was not included in their final proposal. According to one source, however, forcing an infected individual to wear an ankle bracelet is already legal if the county corporation counsel issues an injunction and the infected person still refuses to self-quarantine.
Some ordinances, like Door County’s ordinance, don’t directly say officers can hire quarantine guards. Implementing guards, though, would fall under the “take all measures necessary to prevent, suppress and control communicable diseases” umbrella.
All of these ordinances appear to give local health officials unlimited and unchecked spending authority to fight a public health emergency.
All of the proposals would include fines for people who disobey their local health officials. Fines range from a minimum of $25 in Walworth County to a maximum $25,000 per violation in Marathon County.
Proposals from Jefferson and Dodge Counties include a prison sentence for violations of the public health order. This idea of criminalizing legal behavior goes against both AG Kaul’s legal advice and against Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley’s position during the State Legislature v. Palm oral arguments.
State Rep. Rick Gundrum (R-Slinger) has weighed in on this same issue. “In the recent supreme court decision, justices stated that an unelected official, like DHS Secretary Designee Andrea Palm, does not have the authority to issue fines and jail sentences. That authority belongs to elected officials.
“It makes even less sense that appointed county health officials should now be granted that authority,” says Gundrum. “Appointed officials should never have more power over our lives than elected officials. “
Some of these local emergency public health ordinances have actually been rejected in a few counties – Marathon, Walworth, Jefferson, and Winnebago County.
Marathon and Jefferson County will send their proposals back to a COVID-19 ordinance working group with the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA). The group will recommend best practices. The Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce, Marathon County’s Chamber, opposed the ordinance as written, saying that businesses can’t be weighed down with overburdensome public policy while they’re still recovering from the statewide lockdown.
Walworth County’s proposal was rejected by the public before it was tabled. Winnebago County retracted their proposal and replaced it with a public presentation. … Dodge County’s proposal attracted over 250 people opposed.
State Sen. Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon) has his own concerns about the proposals. “Local governments chasing their own illegal orders would be an avoidable and unforced error which will result in huge legal fees and no upside for taxpayers,” he said. “The only reason for local officials to pursue these shutdown powers is a naked desire for big-government control over the lives of citizens and businesses. It is wrong, and it is unconstitutional.”
While citizens are concerned about the broad “new” powers these ordinances give to local health officials, the local health officials say the proposals are not giving new authority. The county health officials of Marathon and Winnebago Counties have both said that language in the proposals comes directly from state statute. Wis. Stat. 252.03 and 252.06 give health officials the power to use any means necessary to control diseases. 252.06 allows officials to hire non-police quarantine guards.
All proposals that MacIver has reviewed reference 252.03, some reference 252.06. Some proposals cite the powers that DHS Administrative Rule 145.06 gives to public health officials.
The similarities raise the question, was there a coordinated effort to adopt a master ordinance with broad and sweeping powers all over the state?
Health officials from Marathon and Winnebago Counties have pointed directly to AG Kaul’s legal opinion. They say that his opinion is what caused the counties to write their proposed ordinances.
Dodge County’s Corporation Counsel says they drafted their proposal because Dodge County didn’t have any public health laws on how a health official can address a communicable disease. They claimed Dodge County needed an ordinance after the State Supreme Court ruled on the Palm case. The Counsel admitted that Dodge, like many other counties, had up until then “relied on relevant state statutes” to address diseases.
Other sources have pointed to the WCA. In early March, the Association released a health emergency declaration template, as well as a legal analysis on the powers of local public health officials. On May 14, the WCA released a set of considerations for counties to follow after Safer at Home was invalidated. They encouraged counties to “communicate and, to the extent possible, coordinate local public health efforts and other COVID-19 activities with neighboring counties.”
They believed that a regional approach is preferable to counties working on strategies alone. “WCA encourages counties to schedule regular communication with regional neighbors to consider and share COVID-19 strategies.” Their recommendations did not mention anything about quarantine guards or other sweeping powers that are now being called into question.
Category: Wisconsin politics
The Wisconsin State Journal shows the bizarre, but not surprising, ways Madison thinks:
Protesters tore down two historic statues outside the Capitol Tuesday evening — one that has come to represent women’s rights and the other honoring an abolitionist — leaving many people wondering what purpose their removal served to advance the Black Lives Matter movement.
The destruction comes amid a national reckoning over police brutality and systemic racism toward Black people following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop. Local leaders in other cities have removed statues of Confederate soldiers and other symbols of slavery and racism in recent weeks.
In Madison, a group of several hundred protesters on Tuesday evening took down a replica of “Forward,” an 1893 bronze statue of a woman with her right arm extended. Protesters also decapitated and dragged into Lake Monona a statue representing Hans Christian Heg, a Wisconsin abolitionist who bled out in a Civil War battle. Both statues have since been recovered.
Protesters defended their toppling of the statues, framing their actions as a “strategic” move to force politicians and the public to pay attention to problems and inequities that have persisted for centuries.
But University of Connecticut professor Manisha Sinha, a leading authority on the history of slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, called the removal of these particular statues “misguided” because it opens the door for Confederate statue supporters to ask where the line in historical recognition will ever be drawn.
“Taking down statues of people who represent values we want to uphold is not the way to go,” she said. “These were purely disruptive acts.”
Sinha, who has been outspoken in the need to take down statues of white supremacists, said protesters have a right to be angry over racial injustice. The events in Madison, however, indicated to her that protesters were less focused on any symbolism associated with knocking down a particular statue and more interested in channeling their anger over the arrest of a Black activist onto whatever landmark was found within the vicinity.
Mark Elliott, a University of North Carolina-Greensboro historian who studies the Civil War, said most of the Confederate statues coming down in recent years have been hotly debated for decades. Neither of the Madison statues appeared to be symbols of white supremacy, he said, which makes protesters’ overnight removal of them more risky in terms of sustaining momentum for the Black Lives Matter movement.
The danger in that is losing people’s support and having the action be seen as rash instead of as a well-chosen target,” he said.
Part of what spurred the anger and destruction on display Tuesday evening is a refusal by state and local officials to listen to demonstrators’ calls for change, according to protester Ebony Anderson-Carter.
While Anderson-Carter acknowledged the Forward and Heg statues stood for good causes and movements, those in power are not taking that same stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. Having those statues prominently displayed in Madison creates a “false representation of what this city is,” she said.
“I just hope some people realize that sometimes you need to talk to people in a language that only they understand,” Anderson-Carter said. “Stop trying to make us speak to you in your language.”
Protester Micah Le told The Associated Press in a text that the two statues paint a picture of Wisconsin as a racially progressive state when in reality slavery has continued in the form of a corrections system built around incarcerating Black people.
“The fall of the statues is a huge gain for the movement, though I think that liberal and conservative media outlets will try to represent last night as senseless violence rather than the strategic political move it really was,” Le wrote.
Readers may remember that I have been a fan (though our binge-watching of “Miami Vice” interrupted it) Wisconsin Public Radio’s Old Time Radio Drama Saturdays and Sundays from 8 to 11 p.m.
Not anymore. Warren Bluhm quotes WPR:
Wisconsin Public Radio is dropping the weekend Old Time Radio Drama show after this Saturday and Sunday. I’ll just leave this here …
“While schedule changes can be difficult, now is the right time to end this program,” said Mike Crane, WPR director. “Many of these plays and productions were produced more than 60 years ago and include racist and sexist material. Despite significant effort over the years, it has been nearly impossible to find historic programs without offensive and outdated content. And, ultimately, these programs don’t represent the values of WPR and The Ideas Network’s focus on public service through news and information.”
And what are those values now? Read this.
The show will end thusly:
SATURDAY: “Wild Bill Hickok,” 8 p.m.; “Our Miss Brooks,” 8:30 p.m.; “Lux Radio Theater: The Thin Man,” 9 p.m.; “Studio One: The Return of the Native,” 10 p.m.
SUNDAY: “Gunsmoke,” 8 p.m.; “The Great Gildersleeve,” 8:30 p.m.; “FBI in Peace and War,” 9 p.m.; “Crime Classics: Bathsheba Spooner,” 9:30 p.m.; “The Mann Called X,” 10 p.m.; “Arch Obler’s Plays: Mr. Pyle,” 10:30 p.m.
The Wall Street Journal:
‘We’re the Wild West.” That’s what Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said on May 13, after the state Supreme Court threw out a stay-at-home order issued by his administration. The result, Mr. Evers added, would be “chaos” during a pandemic: “We’re going to have more deaths, and it’s a sad occasion for the state.”
That isn’t what happened, at least according to a study published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research. After some statistical analysis, five academic researchers find “no evidence” that the sudden lifting of Wisconsin’s order “impacted social distancing, COVID-19 cases, or COVID-19-related mortality” during the 14 days that followed.
The authors first looked at anonymized smartphone data from May 3 to May 24, which shows little change in Wisconsin residents’ behavior. Then they crunched the numbers on Covid-19 cases and deaths, as tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These analyses “fail to detect any evidence that the Wisconsin Supreme Court order affected COVID-19 health.”
Why the null result? It isn’t that Wisconsin’s initial stay-at-home order was ineffective. The authors say the state’s action came “relatively early during its outbreak cycle” and “significantly flattened the growth curve.” Once the Supreme Court invalidated it, five counties put in place extended local lockdowns. But “accounting for these county policies does not change our main finding.”
So what gives? The authors suggest that perhaps most of Wisconsin’s 5.8 million people simply decided to act responsibly of their own accord. Stay-at-home orders might be first enacted “during a time where people perceived little risk and knew little about proper protective behavior.” But by the time such orders are rescinded, residents “have had a chance to adjust.”
The authors conclude that their results “cast doubt on the assertion that reopening states” will “necessarily cause substantial erosion in the containment of the virus.” Restoring the people’s right to go to the local garden store or salon “does not mean that individuals will exercise that right, and does not mean that if they do, that they will not do so responsibly.”
Hear, hear. In April, when Georgia Governor Brian Kemp eased his lockdown order, a headline writer at the Atlantic dubbed it an “Experiment in Human Sacrifice.” By that logic, nobody would leave the house until assured that a coronavirus vaccine with millions of doses was already being distributed. Political leaders need to trust Americans to follow health guidelines and get on with their lives.
Vince Vitrano of WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee:
“I think we would not feel confident saying that on the 2-week anniversary we are attributing increases to the lifting of safer at home.”
Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Designee Andrea Palm 5/27/2020
Palm said it. I was (virtually) there.
Let’s get into it.
DHS recorded a record number of new, confirmed cases of COVID-19 at 599 on Wednesday. A primary driver for that record number was that it is part of a record number of tests conducted, which for the first time topped 10,000 Wednesday. The percent of positive tests in the sample was 5.8%. That’s up from 3.6% the previous day, but it’s down.
It’s down from 8.3% on May 16th, just three days after the overturn of safer at home. It’s down from 6.3% on May 13th, the day the State Supreme Court overturned safer at home. It’s down from nearly 13% on May 1st, when we were still under safer at home. Thursday’s numbers were down to 512 new cases, and a still falling percentage at 4.8%
There is no upward trend reflected in this data in the percentage of positive tests since safer at home was overturned. https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/data.htm
One qualifier that I’ve identified here before…. while the percentage is an apples to apples comparison… it’s like comparing a granny smith to a honey crisp. For weeks we were testing only very sick people. We have now expanded testing dramatically to include even those with no symptoms. Widening the parameters would naturally invite a lower percentage of positives to appear.
There is an uptick in hospitalizations. The number of people hospitalized across the State of Wisconsin was, at the time of this post, 408. That is starting to tick back down a bit from the day before, but the number hit a weeks-long high on May 26th at 422. You’d have to go back to April 14th to find a day with higher hospitalizations at 441, down from a peak April 9th of 446. https://www.wha.org/Covid-19Update
You can argue the hospitalization numbers are still relatively low given they’re for the entire state, and given dire predictions of hospitals being overrun. You can’t argue there isn’t an overall increasing trend from the first week of May. That is real.
So a mixed report on what the data is showing us in regard to spread of the disease… but no clear indication that the end of safer at home has, of yet, produced devastating effects on public health.
Secretary Designee Palm and the State’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ryan Westergaard both comment in greater detail about this in their last DHS briefing. They comment at about 47 minutes in… and then again at about 52 minutes in to the link I provide here, if you’d like to listen to their comments in full context.
Another thing to take away. While stopping short of saying the lifting of safer at home definitively produced an upward trend in cases, they do both continue to urge caution and suggest the likelihood that more people have coronavirus now in Wisconsin than did a couple of weeks ago.
They also stress we’re now at greater risk of coming into contact with those people. Here’s Westergaard on that, “I think we really need to think, not in terms of did this cause the cases to go up, did this cause the cases to go up? But to undertand that it’s complex, and we have to do a large number of differnt things in order to respond to keep ourselves safer.”
Also Wednesday, Kenosha County health officials expressed alarm that seven recent COVID-19 positive cases in the County are people who work in bars and restaurants. Health officials will not publicly disclose the establishments involved. Perhaps contact tracing could produce some circumstantial evidence that will be able to tie future cases to that. We can watch for news there.
Word of caution, Dr. Westergaard also suggested even when there’s strong associative evidence in individual outbreaks, “It’s not ever going to be possible to attribute something like a trend, especially on one day, to any one thing.”
Dr. Westergaard’s commentary suggests, like with the election, it will be difficult to know even two to three weeks out… because safer at home was overturned… X happened. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Just like we cannot know how coronavirus would have spread through Wisconsin without the order in the first place, we cannot know how it would have continued to spread if it had been left in place. People divided on the wisdom of the decision hope to find evidence one way or another to back their opinions. That’s natural.
Most of the State is allowed to fully reopen, and now it is up to individual business owners how they plan to care for their employees and their customers. It will be up to us as individuals to let our judgement guide decisions about whether to eat out, whether to hang out, whether to go out. I wish you all good health whichever way you break.
One other thing: Professional Steve asked about municipal swimming pools …
… and got not much response.
Over the past year there have been predictive election models based on economic numbers that predicted a Donald Trump win in November.
Then came the coronavirus, and with unemployment now at double digits models are predicting a Joe Biden win.
(Which makes you wonder (1) what Biden and the feds would be doing differently if president now and (2) how the economy would be better if Biden were president and all the liberal wish list things like higher taxes, eliminated student debt, higher taxes, more government spending, higher taxes, the climate freakout, higher taxes, single-payer health care and higher taxes were reality.)
So Politico reports:
In early April, Jason Furman, a top economist in the Obama administration and now a professor at Harvard, was speaking via Zoom to a large bipartisan group of top officials from both parties. The economy had just been shut down, unemployment was spiking and some policymakers were predicting an era worse than the Great Depression. The economic carnage seemed likely to doom President Donald Trump’s chances at reelection.
Furman, tapped to give the opening presentation, looked into his screen of poorly lit boxes of frightened wonks and made a startling claim.
“We are about to see the best economic data we’ve seen in the history of this country,” he said.
The former Cabinet secretaries and Federal Reserve chairs in the Zoom boxes were confused, though some of the Republicans may have been newly relieved and some of the Democrats suddenly concerned.
“Everyone looked puzzled and thought I had misspoken,” Furman said in an interview. Instead of forecasting a prolonged Depression-level economic catastrophe, Furman laid out a detailed case for why the months preceding the November election could offer Trump the chance to brag — truthfully — about the most explosive monthly employment numbers and gross domestic product growth ever.
Since the Zoom call, Furman has been making the same case to anyone who will listen, especially the close-knit network of Democratic wonks who have traversed the Clinton and Obama administrations together, including top members of the Biden campaign.
Furman’s counterintuitive pitch has caused some Democrats, especially Obama alumni, around Washington to panic. “This is my big worry,” said a former Obama White House official who is still close to the former president. Asked about the level of concern among top party officials, he said, “It’s high — high, high, high, high.”
Furman’s case begins with the premise that the 2020 pandemic-triggered economic collapse is categorically different than the Great Depression or the Great Recession, which both had slow, grinding recoveries.
Instead, he believes, the way to think about the current economic drop-off, at least in the first two phases, is more like what happens to a thriving economy during and after a natural disaster: a quick and steep decline in economic activity followed by a quick and steep rebound.
The Covid-19 recession started with a sudden shuttering of many businesses, a nationwide decline in consumption and massive increase in unemployment. But starting around April 15, when economic reopening started to spread but the overall numbers still looked grim, Furman noticed some data that pointed to the kind of recovery that economists often see after a hurricane or industrywide catastrophe like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Furman’s argument is not that different from the one made by White House economic advisers and Trump, who have predicted an explosive third quarter, and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who said in late April that “the hope is that by July the country’s really rocking again.” White House officials were thrilled to hear that some of their views have been endorsed by prominent Democrats.
“I totally agree,” Larry Kudlow, head of the White House National Economic Council, replied in a text message when asked about Furman’s analysis. “Q3 may be the single best GDP quarter since regular data. 2nd half super big growth, transitioning to 4% or more in 2021.” He called Furman, whom he said he knows well, “usually a straight shooter. Hats off to him.”
“I have been saying that on TV as well,” said Kevin Hassett, a top Trump economic adviser, who pointed to a Congressional Budget Office analysis predicting a 21.5 percent annualized growth rate in the third quarter. “If CBO is correct we will see the strongest quarter in history after the weakest in Q2.”
Peter Navarro, a Trump trade and manufacturing adviser who’s a Harvard-educated economist, called the high unemployment America is currently facing “manufactured unemployment, which is to say that Americans are out of work not because of any underlying economic weaknesses but to save American lives. It is this observation that gives us the best chance and hope for a relatively rapid recovery as the economy reopens.”
(Asked about his new fans in the White House, Furman responded, “They get the rebound part, but they don’t get the partial part.”)
A rebound won’t mean that Trump has solved many underlying problems. Since the crisis started, many employers have gone bankrupt. Others have used the pandemic to downsize. Consumption and travel will likely remain lower. Millions of people in industries like hospitality and tourism will need to find new jobs in new industries.
The scenario would be a major long-term problem for any president. But before that reality sets in, Trump could be poised to benefit from the dramatic numbers produced during the partial rebound phase that is likely to coincide with the four months before November.
That realization has many Democrats spooked.
“In absolute terms, the economy will look historically terrible come November,” said Kenneth Baer, a Democratic strategist who worked in a senior role at the Office of Management and Budget under Obama. “But relative to the depths of April, it will be on an upswing — 12 percent unemployment, for example, is better than 20, but historically terrible. On Election Day, we Democrats need voters to ask themselves, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ Republicans need voters to ask themselves, ‘Are you better off than you were four months ago?’”
One progressive Democratic operative pointed out that recent polling, taken during the nadir of the crisis, shows Joe Biden is struggling to best Trump on who is more trusted to handle the economy. “Trump beats Biden on the economy even right now!” he said. “This is going to be extremely difficult no matter what. It’s existential that we figure it out. In any of these economic scenarios Democrats are going to have to win the argument that our public health and economy are much worse off because of Donald Trump’s failure of leadership.”
The former Obama White House official said, “Even today when we are at over 20 million unemployed Trump gets high marks on the economy, so I can’t imagine what it looks like when things go in the other direction. I don’t think this is a challenge for the Biden campaign. This is the challenge for the Biden campaign. If they can’t figure this out they should all just go home.”
The Biden campaign seems to recognize the challenge. “The way that Biden talks about the economy is not just tied to the Covid crisis, it’s also about the things that Donald Trump has done to undermine working people since the day he took office,” said Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager. “But secondly, it’s also highly likely that under any economic circumstances in the fall, Trump is likely going to be the first modern president to preside over net job loss.”
Between now and Election Day, there will be five monthly jobs reports, which are released on the first Friday of every month. The June report, covering May, is likely to show another increase in unemployment. But after that, Furman predicts, if reopening continues apace, the next four reports could be blockbusters. “You could easily have 1 to 2 million jobs created a month in those four reports before November,” he said.
He added, “And then toward the end of October, we will get GDP growth for the third quarter, at an annualized rate, and it could be double-digit positive economic growth. So these will be the best jobs and growth numbers ever.”
Furman noted that there is one major obvious caveat: “If there’s a second wave of the virus and a really serious set of lockdowns, I wouldn’t expect to see this. But I think the most likely case is the one I just laid out.”
When Obama ran for reelection in 2012, during the recovery from the Great Recession, he was able to point out that the unemployment rate was dropping about 1 point every year. But in a V-shaped recovery it would be much faster. “The Trump argument will be he’s producing the fastest job growth and fastest economic growth in history. If he has any ability to do nuance he would say, ‘We are not there yet, reelect me to finish the job,’” Furman said. “The Biden argument will be the unemployment rate is still 12 percent and even with those millions of jobs we are still down 15 million jobs and the only way for this to be fixed is new economic policies.”
Austan Goolsbee, a predecessor to Furman as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama White House, said the recovery would be more like a reverse check mark, rather than a V, and that Biden and Democrats would need to point out that the explosive numbers predicted for the late summer and fall will not erase all of the damage.
“I view it as Trump left the door open and five rats came into the kitchen and you’re going to brag, ‘Look I got two of the rats out?’” Goolsbee said. “There’s a high risk you look completely out of touch if you still have double-digit unemployment rates.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who is close to Biden, said he’s been studying numerous economic forecasts and isn’t convinced a V-shaped rebound is certain. “It seems pretty unlikely to me that we’re going to have a really robust recovery in the next few months,” he said. “Of course, we all hope there will be. Frankly, no matter what the recovery looks like, I expect President Trump to either take credit for things he had nothing to do with or to avoid blame for things he helped cause.”
Furman is an economist, but he had some strategic advice for the Biden campaign. “Don’t make predictions that could be falsified. There are enough terrible things to say you don’t need to make exaggerated predictions,” he said. “The argument that we are in another Great Depression will look like it was overstated. Trump can say, ‘Two million deaths didn’t happen, Great Depression didn’t happen, we are making a lot of progress.’”
Last week, four Republican senators co-sponsored legislation “to let states approve and distribute diagnostic tests when the state or federal government has declared a public health emergency” because—in the words of their press release—“our federal bureaucracy simply has not moved fast enough during this crisis.” It was an explicit rebuke to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for botching COVID-19 testing and for standing in the way of state governments, universities, and private labs that were willing and able to do the job.
Implicitly, it was a shot from the president’s own party at the Trump administration’s incompetent handling of the pandemic. The senators could easily have broadened the targets of their bill; this year has seen the president, governors, and government officials of all types go out of the way to turn a health crisis into a larger catastrophe through bungling, malice, and overreach.
That the CDC dropped the ball is no secret. Early testing kits produced by the agency were contaminated by bad procedures and then bureaucratic delays hampered efforts to fix the problem. Amidst ample evidence of in-house incompetence, the feds then tried to make sure nobody else could show them up.
“Agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services not only failed to make early use of the hundreds of labs across the United States, they enforced regulatory roadblocks that prevented non-government labs from assisting,” CNN notedlast month.
Was the CDC’s incompetence and obstructionism a result of inadequate resources? Nope. “The CDC’s budget has ballooned from $590 million in 1987 to more than $8 billion last year. If the agency had grown with inflation since 1987, it would have a budget of about $1.3 billion today,” Reason‘s Eric Boehm reported. The agency has all the money it needs for good or ill—and it’s done ill in spades.
Perhaps inspired by the CDC’s example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has also done its best to impede pandemic response by stealing medical supplies before they can reach hospitals and clinics. FEMA “is quietly seizing orders, leaving medical providers across the country in the dark about where the material is going and how they can get what they need to deal with the coronavirus pandemic,” the Los Angeles Times reported back in April. Desperate state officials and medical providers turned to smuggling shipments to avoid federal hijacking.
The blustering, authoritarian, and confused tone set by the man in the White House may explain the problem. Trump uses much of his time in pandemic-related news briefings to snipe at political rivals—an analysis by Britain’s The Independent found he spent 27 times longer attacking enemies than expressing sympathy for victims of the virus. Trump also touts dubious miracle cures for COVID-19, going so far as to apparently self-medicate himself with hydroxychloroquine (a drug useful for treating malaria and other ailments, but with serious side effects and offering no proven benefit in the treatment of COVID-19).
The vast, powerful, and incredibly intrusive federal bureaucracy is headed by Trump, who also petulantly invokes the Defense Production Act to forcibly reshape the production and distribution of goods in ways that are already underway, or else that make no sense and threaten to do more harm than good. No wonder lower-ranking federal officials feel obliged to get in everybody else’s way. Federal seat-warmer see, federal seat-warmer do.
In an understandable search for a more-competent counterpart to the president, journalists and pundits have, less understandably, turned to state governors. In particular, they developed something of a shared crush on Andrew Cuomo. The New York governor and Democrat has become “the appointed darling to step into the ring and serve as pugilist against Trump in this crisis,” as DePauw University communications professor Jeffrey McCall put it. CNN even indulges cringe-worthy “interviews” of the governor by his brother that would be considered clumsy even at Pravda-style media operations.
But while many journalists may prefer Cuomo’s political affiliation and semi-coherent presentations over those of Trump, the governor has his own significant failings. To applaud Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic is to praise his personal approach to snatching medical supplies and his proven ability at killing granny.
When COVID-19 settled in, Cuomo threatened to strip ventilators and personal protective equipment from upstate hospitals and ship them to hard-hit New York City. Presented as an example of tough decision-making, the move—put off when upstaters pushed back hard—is better viewed as the governor taking care of city residents who vote for him at the expense of those in northern and western counties who don’t.
New Yorkers who won’t ever again vote for anybody include nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 as a result of the state’s arrogance-fueled venture into inadvertent biological warfare. “More than 4,500 recovering coronavirus patients were sent to New York’s already vulnerable nursing homes under a controversial state directive that was ultimately scrapped amid criticisms it was accelerating the nation’s deadliest outbreaks,” the AP reported last week.
That revelation prompted the governor to back off his earlier vow to investigate nursing home conduct and penalize those that had put the elderly at risk. After all, the investigation threatened to implicate its instigators—especially since nursing home operators had warned that his policy was deadly.
“Multiple states are considering adopting an order similar to what was issued in New York that requires every nursing home to admit hospital patients who have not been tested for COVID-19 and to admit patients who have tested positive,” cautioned the American Health Care Association on March 28. “This approach will introduce the highly contagious virus into more nursing homes. There will be more hospitalizations for nursing home residents who need ventilator care and ultimately, a higher number of deaths.”
Sure enough, as of May 23, close to 6,000 people in New York nursing homes were confirmed or presumed dead due to Covid-19, according to state figures—about one-fifth of the state’s total dead from the pandemic.
If Trump is a walking, talking disaster as executive leaders of crisis responses go, and if Cuomo offers only a more crowd-pleasing brand of bungling, where do we look for competence? As is often the case when leaders seem determined to guide their followers over a cliff, wisdom can best be found among those who reject such leadership and set out to do things on their own, in voluntary cooperation with others.
Helen Chu, director of the Seattle Flu Study, ignored federal rules to identify the presence of the novel coronavirus in Washington state.
Businesses and hobbyists donated personal protective equipment to medical providers to make up the shortfall (my son’s school used its otherwise idled 3D printers to produce hundreds of face shields for medical providers).
Individuals started social-distancing well before any government officials told them to do so—and then eased back into regular patterns of life according to their own judgment, ahead of official permission.
Companies, such as Apple and Google, raced to develop contact-tracing technology that couldn’t be used by governments for surveillance.
Parents and students explored learning at home when schools shut down—and many decided they like it and might continue in the future.
And so much more …
Throughout this pandemic, competent and responsible responses have come not from presidents and governors, but from people and organizations taking the initiative to help each other and themselves. Absent political officials to boss us around and lead us down blind alleys, it turns out that we do pretty well. We might do even better if presidents, governors, and other officials would stay out of the way.
Tuccille didn’t mention Wisconsin, which still has upwards of 700,000 Wisconsinites whose unemployment claims have still not been filled, despite various excuses from state government. (In the private sector, employees would have been immediately deployed into areas where a big jump in work is needed.) Wisconsin also has a governor who is 0 for 3 with the state and U.S. Supreme Court over the Safer at Home order and belated attempts to reschedule elections, perhaps in part because he’s getting bad legal advice.
Two weeks ago today, Wisconsin signed its own death warrant. If the hysterical shrieking from both the Evers Administration and its allies in the media was to be believed, four conservative justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court effectively ended life as we know it in the state.
“We’re the Wild West,” Evers told MSNBC just hours after the Supreme Court struck down his “Safer at Home” order on May 13th and people flocked to the few bars that immediately reopened. “There is nothing that’s compelling people to do anything other than having chaos here.”
“This turns the state to chaos,” Evers said in a conference call with local reporters that same evening. “People will get sick. And the Republicans own the chaos.”
“Chaos it was,” The Washington Post dutifully echoed. “It’s a situation unlike any in the United States as the pandemic rages on. But most of all, Evers feared that the court’s order would cause the one thing he was trying to prevent: more death.”
More death, Wisconsin was repeatedly assured, was an absolute certainty.
“This action will inevitably lead to more sickness and more death,” insisted longtime Democratic attorney Michael Maistelman, who has occasionally represented Evers. “The court will have blood on their hands and the people of Wisconsin will not forget.”
“This is dangerous madness,” tweeted Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler. “No matter where you live, the nightmare Republicans inflict here may soon arrive at your door.”
So despondent was The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel over the devastation that the ruling was sure to cause that it wrote a rare editorial literally begging its readers to save us all.
“It’s up to us,” the paper wrote on May 14th, the day after the decision was published. “We can’t count on our elected representatives to work together for the public good in Wisconsin. They have proven themselves utterly incapable of compromising even in an emergency to come up with a sensible plan to protect the health of our most vulnerable friends, neighbors and family members.”
Unfortunately, without the protection of a lockdown order, Governor Evers predicted that there was simply nothing anyone could do.
“We’re going to have more cases,” he said. “We’re going to have more deaths. And it’s a sad occasion for the state. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.”
Two weeks to the day after he spoke those words, none of the doomsday predictions have come true. Not a single one. Wisconsin hasn’t seen a sudden spike in cases, hospitalizations, intensive care visits, or deaths. Two weeks to the day after the Supreme Court reopened the state, Wisconsin is…perfectly fine.
Governor Evers might want to call it the Mild West.
On May 13th, the day of the Supreme Court ruling, Wisconsin saw 291 new cases of Coronavirus out of 4,363 tests for a positive test rate of 6.3%. Since the virus has an incubation period of between three and 14 days (with an average incubation of five days), the state would expect a massive spike in both positive tests and the positive test rate by today—two weeks after the state reopened—if the reopening was indeed responsible for such a spike.
There hasn’t been a spike in either. Five days after the court’s ruling on the 13th, the state saw just 144 positive tests even though there were far more total tests (4,828) done than on the 13th for a positive rate of 2.9% on May 18th.
Eight days later, on May 26th, the positive test rate was 3.6% (279 positive tests out of 7,495 total). Just twice has the positive rate hit or topped 8% since the Supreme Court’s ruling. By contrast, in April the positive test rate routinely hit 10% per day. Two weeks to the day after Wisconsin reopened, neither the number of new cases per day nor the percentage of positive tests has even come close to spiking.
Neither has the number of hospitalizations or ICU visits. In none of the state’s seven regions has there been even a tiny bump per day. Instead, the numbers have been remarkably consistent throughout the outbreak, suggesting that the reopening has had little to no effect at all on the hospitalization rate and thus the severity of the disease’s impact.
As if that wasn’t enough to disprove the hysterical predictions of death and destruction made just two weeks ago, the virus has somehow become less deadly since Wisconsin started to reopen.
In the 13 days since the Supreme Court’s ruling, there have been 96 Coronavirus deaths for an average of 7.3 per day. In the 13 days immediately preceding the Court’s ruling, there were 105 Coronavirus deaths for an average of 8.07 per day.
If Wisconsin signed its own death warrant when the Supreme Court struck down “Safer at Home,” then the signature must have been forged. In no way has the state become a more dangerous place since it reopened. The “chaos” that Evers repeatedly predicted has been proven to be as nonsensical a forecast as the death and destruction the Governor and his fellow Democrats insisted would result from an in-person election on April 7th.
“Tomorrow in Wisconsin, thousands will wake up and have to choose between exercising their right to vote and staying healthy and safe,” Evers said the day before the vote.
“This thing in Wisconsin was one of the most awful things I’ve ever seen in my life,” Democratic strategist James Carville said on Election Night. “Just the extent they’ll go to to hold on to power. It was all about one Supreme Court seat in Wisconsin. They will kill people to stay in power, literally.”
They literally didn’t, and the numbers proved it. Two weeks after the election, the infection, hospitalization, and death numbers were nearly identical to the two weeks that preceded the in-person vote.
Two weeks after Wisconsin reopened, the numbers tell the same story: The hysterical predictions were just that. The Supreme Court didn’t infect the state; Wisconsinites didn’t die en masse because the government could no longer keep them locked in their homes.
And now they’re going to start wondering why they should ever be fooled by hysterical predictions of death and destruction again.
We’ll see what happens around June 8, when according to pandemic paranoia we should be inundated with COVID-19 cases from the lack-of-social-distancing Memorial Day weekend.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Dallet argued for keeping Governor Evers’ “Safer at Home” order in place, but spent Memorial Day Weekend boating with friends in what would have been a violation of that order.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritkzer said he and his family have been spending time on their horse farm in Wisconsin, saying they’re doing an essential function.
According to the Chicago Tribune, some have called the travel a violation of his own stay-at-home order.
“I just will say we have a working farm. They’re there now. There are animals on that farm, that is an essential function to take care of animals at a farm, so that’s what they’re doing,” Pritzker said.
A spokesperson for the governor’s office said Pritzker and his family have been living in Chicago but have visited the farm in Racine.
The Governor said his wife and daughter were originally in Florida when the shelter-in-place order was issued there.
One wonders if Pritzker told Gov. Tony Evers he was planning on violating his home state’s lockdown to visit Wisconsin.
M.D. Kittle wrote this Saturday:
One state senator wants Gov. Evers to withdraw his embattled health secretary’s looming rule that could shut down Wisconsin again, while another is asking the secretary to step down.
Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) issued a statement Friday asserting Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm has failed to see the writing on the Wisconsin Supreme Court wall. Palm and her staff were busily working on a new agency rule that would replace the emergency order she signed last month extending Evers’ lockdown order. The Wisconsin Supreme Court earlier this week struck down the emergency rule, ending Evers’ stay-at-home order.
“Now, most rational public servants would get the message that the rule of law and the constitutional limitations on government are not optional or mere suggestions,” Nass said. “The DHS Scope Statement leaves little doubt that Secretary-Designee Palm is no longer acting in a lawful capacity by circumventing the Supreme Court ruling and once again trying to improperly take control of the daily lives of every Wisconsin citizen.”
As Empower Wisconsin reported, Evers on Thursday sent notice to his agency heads that he approved an “emergency statement of scope” by the Department of Health. The statement gives DHS authority “to establish protections for Wisconsin citizens by maintaining appropriate social distancing or other measures to slow and contain the spread of COVID-19 and protect health and safety.” The statement also is supposed to, as the governor puts it, turn the dial to reopen Wisconsin’s economy.
Actually, what it does is layout the broad powers Team Evers and his DHS Secretary-designee, Andrea Palm, believe they have under Wisconsin’s public health emergency statutes. And, while the agency just began the process of promulgating “new emergency rules to address” COVID-19, it seems clear they want control back.
Outgoing state Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) said it’s time for the secretary-designee to step down.
“Secretary-designee Andrea Palm must immediately resign from her appointment as Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary,” he said in a statement. Tiffany easily won Tuesday’s election for the 7th Congressional District, filling a seat long left empty by Evers’ political maneuvering.
“The recent Supreme Court ruling confirmed that Ms. Palm’s power grab exceeded her authority. Her shotgun approach to lock down Wisconsin has produced disastrous consequences.”
Evers sounded indignant when asked by reporters what he thought of Tiffany’s comment.
“Senator Tiffany, please, you just won an election. Just relax. This is an insane statement. We talk about trying to tone down the rhetoric, and I’ve done everything I can to do that, and to make a statement about someone who’s dedicated her life to saving lives. Please sir, give us a break,” Evers said at a press conference Thursday.
The governor’s record, however, doesn’t reflect his words. Was Evers’ toning down the rhetoric when he tweeted that a legal challenge to his lockdown by Republicans in the Legislature was tantamount to homicide?
“Today legislative Republicans told the 4,600+ people in the state of Wisconsin who have contracted COVID-19 and the families of the 242 people who have died, we don’t care about you —we care about our political power,” he wrote late last month.
And the idea that Palm has “dedicated her life to saving lives” is more than a stretch. The former Obama administration official has committed much of her professional life to the political advancement of the left’s health care agenda.
Tiffany isn’t the only one calling for Palm’s resignation, but it seems unlikely the Republican majority in the senate — which just increased to 19-13 after Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling’s (D-La Crosse) resignation — will hold a confirmation vote on Palm in the foreseeable future.
Nass has been a vocal critic of the DHS secretary-designee. The co-chair of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules says the panel’s powers to suspend emergency rules like the one DHS is promulgating “are not in doubt.”
“DHS is needlessly creating a political fight that does nothing to move the state forward on the legal and proper path of fighting COVID-19,” the senator said.
“I call on Gov. Evers to withdraw the Scope Statement and end this needless confrontation before it escalates and leads to greater public discontent with the public health officials in the state,” Nass added.
That was Saturday. On Monday, DHS announced it was withdrawing the scope statement, apparently ending the attempt to recreate Safer at Home by rule. But on Tuesday, Empower Wisconsin reported:
Gov. Tony Evers’ health chief was prepared to take her power play local after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state lockdown.
In her “Safer at Home and Badger Bounce Back Template for Local Health Officials,” Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm laments that the court“diminished the Department’s ability to respond to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.”
Not exactly. What the 4-3 ruling declared is Palm grabbed up power that was not unilaterally hers in defiance of state law. That law calls for legislative oversight. More so, her extended order locking down the state failed to follow the constitution.
But no worries, Palm says in her guidance. “Local health officials may still issue local orders to protect their communities from communicable diseases like COVID-19.” In short, If the Republican-led Legislature and the conservative-controlled Supreme Court won’t allow me to take away your civil liberties in the name of public health, maybe local government can do it.
Palm points to state statute which says local health officers “shall promptly take all measures necessary to prevent, suppress and control communicable diseases” within their county. Another statute, the DHS director said, allows local health officials to “do whatever is reasonable and necessary for the prevention and suppression of disease,” including forbidding public gatherings.
“The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision does not affect this authority,” the DHS document asserts.
Liberal Attorney General Josh Kaul argued the same points in an opinion insisting the local orders are legal. His opinion was not shared by other prosecutors.
Green County District Attorney Craig Nolen on Monday wrote to local Health Officer RoAnn Warden and county officials that regardless of the attorney general’s opinion, he highly recommends rescinding Green County’s extended stay-at-home order. Green County, as of Monday morning, was one of about 20 counties and cities statewide that had continued some form of lockdown.
“The enforcement of the order is frankly impossible, as Section 4-4-4 applies to places only under County Zoning Restrictions, and likely to be struck down if challenged,” Nolen wrote in an email obtained by Empower Wisconsin. “My office will not be enforcing it in any criminal action, after further review and analysis of the issues presented. I foresee significant liability to the County at this point with no real ability to enforce the order.”
Warden finally heeded the DA’s advice and the order was rescinded Monday afternoon.
Green County’s neighbor to the north stayed the course on its lockdown while playing lip service to reopening. Public Health Madison and Dane County on Monday released its Forward Dane plan. It “allows” businesses to begin Tuesday to prepare to reopen, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
“If key metrics are in a favorable position for at least one week, the county will step into the first of three reopening phases. Each phase will last for at least 14 days — the incubation time of the coronavirus — before Public Health assesses whether to move to the next phase,” the newspaper reported.
In other words, it may take more litigation for Dane County businesses and citizens to get their rights back.
The number two isn’t accurate anymore. Kittle and Joshua Waldoch report:
At least five Republican senators want to send Gov. Tony Evers’ Department of Health Services-designee Andrea Palm packing, as discontent continues to grow among conservatives about the former Obama administration official’s handling of the COVID-19 response.
Empower Wisconsin sought comment from all 18 Republican state senators. Sens. Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon), Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), and Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) are calling for a Senate confirmation hearing on Palm’s nomination. They all say they would vote against her confirmation.
“She’s exceeded her authority, and broken the law,” Kapenga said. “We’ve removed people for less.”
Craig has been on record saying Palm has shown “incredibly poor judgment in dealing with COVID-19.”
“Her pervasive disregard for the law, the constitutional rights of citizens and the very data and ‘science’ she claims to follow is clear justification for her immediate removal,” the senator said in a statement last month. Craig announced on Tuesday that he would not seek another term.
“As he’s told our leadership and said publicly last year, Sen. Nass opposed her pre-COVID-19,” said Nass spokesman Mike Mikalsen. His position hasn’t changed. Palm, he said, has shown no remorse for her “illegal actions” in trying to “ram through” emergency rules that were the same as the stay-at-home orders. “Steve believes that any day the Senate comes back to floor this session her nomination should be on the agenda and voted down.”
The Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee approved Palm’s nomination last year on a 4-1 vote. Jacque cast the lone “no” vote, citing concerns about Palm’s deputy Nicole Safar, former vice president of public Affairs for Planned Parenthood. His position has not changed, particularly after watching Palm’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. Sens. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and Pat Testin (R-Stevens Point) did vote to confirm her in the Health Committee vote.
Stroebel, who has been a vocal critic of Palm and the DHS during the pandemic, told Empower Wisconsin he is open to a vote, and he would vote against the secretary-designee’s confirmation.
Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua), who resigned from the Senate this week to take the 7th Congressional District seat he won earlier this month, also has called for Palm’s ouster.
“Ms. Palm came here as Governor Evers’ hired gun, and she will leave with Wisconsin’s corpse if she continues,” Tiffany recently said in a statement.
Before being tapped as Evers health chief, Palm served as senior counselor to the secretary of Health and Human Services under former President Barack Obama. She has held leadership positions with Hillary Clinton, when Clinton was a U.S. senator from New York, and other liberal politicians and organizations.
Republicans hold an 18-13 majority. It had been 19-14 before Tiffany’s departure and Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling’s (D-La Crosse) sudden resignation.
Many senators did not return Empower Wisconsin’s request for comments.
Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) doesn’t believe it’s an appropriate time to hold a confirmation hearing, said the senator’s chief of staff, Scott Kelly.
Senate President Roger Roth (R-Appleton) said he does have serious concerns about Palm’s leadership, but many Republican caucus members have “agreed it would be best for there to be stability with the position.” He noted Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has made it clear that Palm would not be removed from her position during the crisis.
Post-pandemic, however, Roth said he thinks it would be best to re-refer her confirmation appointment back to the Senate Health Committee for another public hearing.
“We have seen how DHS operates, sometimes unlawfully, so it is prudent for Senators and the public to be allowed an opportunity to weigh in again after seeing how this pandemic was handled in Wisconsin,” he said.