The non-governor of Wisconsin

Dan O’Donnell:

Great leaders aren’t born; they’re made—forged by the moments that end up defining them.The greatest crises, then, the most challenging moments, can make the greatest leaders.But what if the greatest crisis is one of leadership?

Sadly, Wisconsin is finding out.To say that Governor Evers has failed to meet his moment would be a gross understatement, and his failure won’t just define him; it has already consumed him.If great leaders rise to the greatest challenges, Evers has shrunk smaller than any point of his governorship.

His dithering or outright dishonesty about whether he would issue an order effectively shutting down Wisconsin lulled the state into a false sense of security in its way of life before his sudden about-face on Monday morning whipped millions of his constituents into a state of abject panic.

Would they be able to go to work the next day?Would their business have to be closed…maybe for good?With a brief, detail-free Twitter thread announcing his intention to issue what he cryptically termed a “Safer at Home” order the next day, Evers touched off hours of uncertainty.

With a shaky, confused press conference Monday afternoon, Evers touched off a growing belief that he himself wasn’t sure what his order would include.Which businesses were “essential” and which were “non-essential?”Evers wasn’t specific.What made him change his mind so quickly and issue an order three days after assuring the state that he wouldn’t?Evers didn’t say.How would that order prevent the spread of Coronavirus in a way that his previous order banning public gatherings of ten people or more would not?Evers wasn’t exactly sure.When would conditions improve to the point that the order could be lifted?Evers just sort of shrugged.

Worse yet, a thoroughly confused public couldn’t contact its state representatives for clarification because, well, the Legislature learned about Evers’ order when the public did and received no more clarity.

“The governor’s executive order came as a surprise to the Legislature,” Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a statement.“It was a complete reversal from his repeated assurances. It should be noted that legislative leaders have asked on a daily basis whether or not this was the direction the governor was headed, and we were told it was not.

“The governor’s sudden change of course and lack of specific guidance have increased the level of uncertainty and anxiety in our state. The people of Wisconsin deserve clear communications during a public health emergency.”

They have gotten anything but.

Even after Evers’ order was officially issued on Tuesday morning, confusion abounded and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation was flooded with calls from business owners big and small wondering whether they would need to close for the next month.

As bad as the lack of clarity and communication have been, however, the Evers order’s draconian crackdown on individual liberty was far worse.

“All public and private gatherings of any number of people that are not part of a single household or living unit are prohibited,” states the order, which makes violations “punishable by up to 30 days imprisonment, or up to $250 fine, or both.”

Shockingly, this makes family get-togethers with Grandma and Grandpa punishable by jail time.First Amendment protections of freedom of association could not possibly be any more infringed upon.For the next month, Wisconsinites are not free to associate with anyone outside of their households.

And they can forget about freely exercising religion, because “religious facilities, entities, groups, and gatherings, and weddings and funerals…shall include fewer than 10 people in a room or confined space at a time.”

The rights of the free exercise of religion and of association are among the most basic of American society, while the ability of the individual to use private property, to own and maintain private enterprise, and to move freely have become nearly unanimously accepted as necessary to preserve a free society.

Never before in Wisconsin’s history have such freedoms been so dramatically curtailed, and never before has Wisconsin’s leadership been so unable to explain why.

Inasmuch as Wisconsin now faces a crisis, it is a crisis of leadership. Real leaders rise to meet the moment with poise and confidence, honestly communicate a clear vision, and boldly enact a plan that provides for the safety of the collective while upholding the rights of the individual.

Evers has done none of this.His moment has met him, and he has proven himself wholly unprepared for it.

The problem with O’Donnell’s thesis is that O’Donnell assumes that Evers is actually the governor of Wisconsin.

The actual governor of this state appears to be Maggie Gau, Evers’ chief of staff and apparently chief thinker, profiled by The Cap Times a year ago:

Politics has always been a part of Gau’s life, extending to before she was born. Both sets of the Wausau native’s grandparents were politically active, but that was particularly true on her dad’s side of the family.

Noting that the couple was close with former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, a Democrat who represented the northwestern part of the state for four decades, Gau relayed a story about a family trip that included piling everyone into the car for a drive to the nation’s capital.

“And (my grandparents were) like, ‘We’re going to Washington, D.C. We’re going to visit Dave Obey.’ And the kids were like, ‘Really?'” she said with a laugh.

Gau has her own tribute to that side of the family — and Obey himself — on her desk. Situated there, to the left of an old photo of her grandfather and Obey, is Obey’s memoir, “Raising Hell for Justice: The Washington Battles of a Heartland Progressive.”

“People would say that I had (politics) in my blood, like from the second I was born,” she said. 

But it wasn’t until high school, during her four years involved in Wausau West’s debate program where “politics were a part of that sort of narrative and our strategy,” that Gau got to experience “a taste of it” herself.

Gau ran for student council secretary in middle and high school and got involved in various efforts, including one where students sought to keep their lunchtime open-campus privileges. She touted that push in her 2005 high school graduation speech which was then mentioned by the local newspaper.

Gau’s aunt, Mary Seidl, a Madison elementary school principal, recalled Gau playing with a portable microphone toy growing up: she “loved using that to be able to elevate herself.”

“If she believed in something, she just throws her whole passion behind it and sometimes at the expense of herself,” Seidl said. “When you’re growing up, that’s hard. (During school), if you get behind something, some people may see that as intimidating or may not get behind that, but that never mattered to her.”

But Gau said she wasn’t necessarily interested in running for office herself, opting to maintain her sense of privacy while working “behind the scenes.”

“One of the most valuable things that you can give to someone is your time and your labor and to be able to help promote and support and help others in that capacity,” she said. “That’s exactly where my strength is and why I’m where I am.”

Asked if Gau would run for office at some point, Seidl said it’s something she’s repeatedly asked her niece, who she views as someone who “really, really wants change, like at her core.”

Well, we agree. I want change. As in a new governor, not named Evers or Gau.

But, she added: “She recognizes that she doesn’t want to be the people giving the speech, she wants to write the speech because there’s more power in writing the speech than giving it.”

Presty the DJ for March 31

Today in 1949, RCA introduced the 45-rpm single to compete with the 33-rpm album introduced by CBS one year earlier.

The first RCA 45 was …

Today in 1964, the Beatles filmed a scene of a “live” TV performance before a studio audience for their movie “A Hard Day’s Night.”

In the audience as an extra: Phil Collins.

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for March 31”

The tragicomedy of the coronavirus

There are, as far as I know, only two people in my extended family who were paid to write for publication. The other one was my great-aunt, who worked at the Morrison County Record in Little Falls, Minn., and doubled as their cooking columnist.

That does not mean the non-writers in the family cannot tell stories. And so my mother makes her worldwide writing debut:

Yesterday Steve went into panic mode since he was eating his last banana for breakfast. He says he’s going to go to the store and get three or four. He is very picky about his bananas and won’t eat one if it has a brown spot so can’t stockpile.

That is, by the way, my father (Steve is his middle name), not the writer of this blog. His actual first name is Paul, the same as his father’s, but back in the days when many people went by their middle names he was Paul Stephen, since he was born on St. Stephen’s Day, and not Paul Leonard. Their decision to name me for Paul Stephen, but in reverse, set in motion years of confusion over the intended recipients of phone calls and mail.

Me: You’re going to risk life and limb for a few bananas?

I tell him I’ve got it covered, so at bedtime I set my alarm for 6:30 a.m. to take advantage of the store’s senior early hours, 6:30–8:30 a.m. Didn’t sleep well knowing I had this daunting task that I was committed to.

That is apparently hereditary. Back in my business magazine days I would make 6 a.m. morning TV appearances at a Green Bay TV station an hour from the house. I was paranoid that I would not get there in time, knowing full well that if you don’t get there on time, they’re not going to move you elsewhere in the show. I always did get there in time, but I spent the rest of the day in a caffeine-fueled haze due to my lack of sleep.

At 6:13 a.m this morning my eyes pop open — I beat the alarm clock. Ran and shut the window (I like it cold to sleep), ran to turn up the furnace since I like it warm to get dressed, started my first cup of coffee in the Keurig. Did my daily blood sugar test and it was good — yay, more carbs today! Day is starting off great. Checked out the window and it is dark and raining. Great, since it might keep the old farts indoors. Went to the bathroom for a quick tooth brushing, used a cold wash cloth to wake myself up, applied lots of moisturizer so wrinkles don’t resemble the Grand Canyon. Penciled on two misaligned eyebrows (I’m not going anywhere, even for bananas, without my eyebrows). They work if I don’t smile or squint. I’ve got this! Serious case of bed head — rainy and cold so a knit hat works, plus I have matching cloth gloves to wear in the store. No touchy anything! Gloves can be washed or left in the car until spring.

I am dressed, in the car and on the road at 6:48. Weird because there is not a car in sight. Made me wonder if the store would be open. I take a risk and drive 30 in a 25 mph zone. Figured no cop would give a ticket to a “fragile” (doctor’s label, not mine, since I think of myself as a flyweight Ninja Grandma) senior who is doing an emergency food run for the family.
Get to the store — wait, there are cars in MY store’s parking lot. I don my gloves and bravely walk in the door. Wow, only saw a couple bodies and they were stocking, etc.

Good news — there were muffins. Hooray, since I allow myself one-fourth of a muffin as a treat. God is soooooooo good — bought two packages. No, that’s not hoarding because there were plenty on the table.

Go to produce and found four perfect greenish yellow bananas, beautiful raspberries that I plan to do a reverse mortgage to afford. (If hunky Tom Selleck says reverse mortgages are good, I’m there.)

Peppers look good though with my neuropathy glove-covered hands there is no way I can open up the freaking plastic bags — was holding up progress so gave up. My beloved grapefruit were plentiful so I grabbed a bag of seven, and my favorite lettuce blend.

I’m definitely on a roll … until this young guy invades my personal space. I’m thinking about giving him the finger but have never been able to determine what one to use.  I’m told a thumbs-up gesture does not convey the message appropriately. Oh well, the glove probably would make it difficult anyway.

Observation: women are being respectful; men are clueless! Nothing new there. Probably a dozen or so people in the whole store. Shelves are bare in the toilet paper area, but I did find some Pinesol liquid so I can make my own spray if my supply runs out.
Picked up one dozen eggs and several of my low-carb yogurt. I’m definitely on a roll since I was able to find most of what I wanted/needed. Hooray and worth the trip!

Stopped to profoundly thank a manager type who was checking prices. Seemed to make her so happy and she in turn thanked me for shopping their store. I’m thinking people are going to bigger probably better stocked shelves.

By this time my stomach is growling so loud that my social-distancing fellow shoppers are looking at me probably wondering if one of the first signs of the virus is noisy stomachs. They’re definitely looking fearful. So as not to offend, I head to the checkout where I am delighted to find my favorite youngsters at the register — a cute little Asian guy bagger and a young woman who is sooooooo good at her job. She remembers everything and always reminds the bagger to not make my bags heavy since I have a bad back. How sweet is that?  I thank them both profusely and ask what time they had to get to work. Turns out they reported in at 6 a.m. but she has the day off tomorrow.
It is now 7:31 a.m. and I push my treasures in my cart and can’t get the right button (remember gloves here) to open the back door. Finally throw caution to the wind and open it myself. I duck as it raises up. I load my bags in the car and drive home. Still no traffic on the road.  So eerie!

Get home and take only the perishables into the house.  I saw the instructions of how to handle groceries. I spend the next hour cleaning everything — if the peppers taste a little weird so-be-it.

At 8:36 sleeping Jesus emerges in his jammies from the bedroom and says (drum roll, please) “Are you going somewhere?” Dane County has another C-19-related casualty.

I have never heard of my father referred to as “sleeping Jesus.” Apparently he outgrew being a morning person.

I must say I haven’t had such an adventure since I skipped an afternoon of school in the ninth grade. I was terrified the whole time and vowed it wasn’t worth it. Didn’t get caught but I believe I’m still being punished by getting frequent urinary tract infections.

Of all the people I know, my mother is the last person I would have thought would have ever skipped school. Proof of the cosmic unfairness of the universe: Had I ever skipped school, or for that matter done one-tenth of what my father allegedly did when he was in school, I would still be locked in their basement on lifetime grounding.

While this is meant to be a joke, I sit here with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. I am so blessed to live in a country where the aged are being treated aggressively for the virus, unlike some other countries who triage them out as hopeless. My beloved family and friends are well at this point and the grocery stores are making special hours to help us seniors stay healthy. What else could I wish for except for solutions to be found to fight this terrible disease.

I close by wishing you continued good health. Stay well!

On rooting against Trump

Kyle Smith:

The president is not America. Our fortunes are not his fortunes. He is not, as Chris Rock once said of President Obama, “the dad of the country.”

Yeah, well, Rock was wrong.

If we happen to be of an opposing political faction, the president’s misfortunes may fill us with glee, or his triumphs may cause us anguish. If you hate the president, by all means do everything you can to bruise him. Rejoice in his every misstep. Luxuriate in his errors. Pounce on his gaffes. Make his life a living hell.

But not now.

No one expects the mainstream media to be even-handed anymore. We don’t even expect the media to be professional. That ship has sailed. We get it: You loathe Trump and will put the worst possible spin on everything he says and does until he’s out of office. (At which point you’ll do the same for whoever the new highest-ranking Republican is.) But, for a limited time, is it too much to ask that the media broaden their scope to include the country and the world instead of just their own Ahabian obsessions about Trump? As far as I know, every member of the Washington press corps, even Jim Acosta, is a resident of Planet Earth. Why are they all acting as if they’re looking down from the Nebulon-235 system and not subject to everything that is happening?

For better or worse, during this uncertain flight on a wobbly plane through this storm-wracked air, Captain Trump is at the controls. No amount of whining will make Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden president in the next few months. So can we just call timeout from Silly Season, please? When this is over you can all go back to telling us that ten dollars’ worth of Russian Facebook memes of Jesus arm-wrestling Satan subverted the 2016 election.

At some point the coronavirus scare will no longer be the leading story in the world. There will be plenty of time later to analyze Trump’s performance during this crisis, to mull his overly optimistic early reports and the velocity of his adaptation to changing circumstances. But must the Democratic Party and its communications subsidiary, better known as virtually every major news organization, be so relentlessly hostile right now? Could they maybe knock off the rabid-wolverine behavior for a few weeks?

The president is not us, but for now he is tied up with us. We want him to succeed, do we not? Is it not obvious that, even if you despise everything the man has ever said and done and want his presidency to end so spectacularly it’ll make the Hindenburg look like a Duraflame log, it would be good for us if he got us through these next few months with the least conceivable damage to life, health, and wealth?

We know that the president is unusually thin-skinned and capricious, that he is keenly and perhaps unhealthily focused on what the media are saying about him at any given nanosecond, that he has a short temper and a quick fuse. He goes through cabinet secretaries like a newborn goes through diapers. And pointing out his errors is the legitimate business of CNN, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, the Washington Post, etc. But the way the media are trying to gin up a feud between Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci is disgraceful and disgusting.

Folks, and by “folks” I mean you absolute freaking Muppets, are you trying to get Fauci fired? Do we really want to start over with a new specialist in infectious diseases in the White House? Would you be happy if Omarosa were Trump’s chief adviser on epidemiology? Would you be more secure if Jared were the last man standing during the medical briefings?

The incandescently moronic jibber-jabber (I won’t call it “reporting”) about the bizarre case of the Arizona woman whose husband died after taking fish-tank cleaner he and she incorrectly supposed to be the drug Trump touted in the White House is the kind of barnyard waste product that shouldn’t even make it to national news reports, and ordinarily wouldn’t, except that the media seem to be getting a near-erotic thrill out of any scrap of information they think might set off Trump. The dead Arizona man didn’t take chloroquine. He took chloroquine phosphate, in a massive dose. Please run the tape for me where Trump said, “Everybody take a spoonful of fish-tank cleaner to save your lives.” “The difference between the fish tank cleaning additive that the couple took and the drug used to treat malaria is the way they are formulated,” dryly noted CBS News. Oh, you don’t say? Because I was going to put rubbing alcohol in my martini tonight. Or is rubbing alcohol differently formulated than gin?

This kind of inverted pyramid of piffle is exactly the kind of thing that seems specifically engineered to distract Trump or send him into a rage spiral when we all need him to be calm, measured, and focused on things that matter. The president’s character flaws are well known. Why aggravate them? Could the media take a deep breath and not be utterly insane for, say, 120 days?

Then go back to being nuts! Write all the “Has Trump Been a Russian Asset Since 1987?” stories you want. Write earnest “reporter’s notebook” pieces on how Trump let the contagion spread because he secretly wanted a federal bailout for his hotels. Or, should the havoc wrought by the virus turn out to be much less than feared, go back to rewriting all those “Trump is a xenophobic lunatic for overstating the threat from China” pieces you were doing six weeks ago. For now, though, please stop acting as though the principal duty of the press is to make the president even more erratic than he is already inclined to be.

Presty the DJ for March 30

The number one single today in 1957 was the first number one rock and roll single to be written by its singer:

The number one single today in 1963 …

… which sounds suspiciously similar to a song released seven years later …

… which resulted in, of course, a lawsuit, the settlement for which included:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for March 30”

Science and journalism

The Wall Street Journal:

Give Neil Ferguson a break. Nearly two weeks ago Mr. Ferguson, an epidemiologist with Imperial College London, issued a report on Covid-19. Much of the public attention focused on his worst-case projection that there might as many as 2.2 million American and 510,000 British deaths. Fewer paid attention to the caveat that this was “unlikely,” and based on the assumption that nothing was done to control it.The report was one reason that led Prime Minister Boris Johnson to change policy and lock Britain down. Under the Imperial College model, the projection was that the steps Mr. Johnson had been taking would cut the number of projected deaths in half but still leave about a quarter million British dead.
Now Mr. Ferguson has clarified his estimates. He told Parliament this week that he now reckons the number of deaths in the U.K. “would be unlikely to exceed 20,000”—and that many would be older people who would have died from other maladies this year. With the measures now in place, he believes Britain’s health service won’t be overwhelmed.

Critics are bashing him for the revisions, but not so fast. Mr. Ferguson didn’t change his model so much as adjust for new circumstances. In particular he believes that Covid-19 is more transmissible than he previously had thought—but because strong measures had been implemented, deaths would be far lower than his worst-case scenario.

There’s a warning here about science and journalism. Surely if we hope to neutralize a pandemic we don’t fully understand, we need to encourage a culture in which scientists feel able to adapt and clarify with new evidence. Scientists would also help themselves if, in explaining their findings, they would be more candid about the assumptions and variables.

This goes double for the press. It’s no secret that the press’s reputation has taken a credibility hit in this crisis. Nor is it any secret why: Instead of a presentation of what we know and don’t, too often the focus has been political scapegoating or sensationalizing.

[Last] week on “CBS This Morning,” U.S. Surgeon-General Jerome Adams complained about a press that runs with projections “based on worst-case scenarios.” He was talking about ventilators, but his point applies across the board. Deborah Birx, coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, said the same regarding apocalyptic forecasts not backed by data about hospitals having to issue Do Not Resuscitate orders.

In the battle to save lives and address the scourge of Covid-19, good information is paramount. Credit to Neil Ferguson for clarifying his projections when the situation changed.

It’s as if the media is rooting for the worst that could happen, or something.

A sermon you won’t hear Sunday

R.R. Reno:

At the press conference on Friday announcing the New York shutdown, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “I want to be able to say to the people of New York—I did everything we could do. And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”

This statement reflects a disastrous sentimentalism. Everything for the sake of physical life? What about justice, beauty, and honor? There are many things more precious than life. And yet we have been whipped into such a frenzy in New York that most family members will forgo visiting sick parents. Clergy won’t visit the sick or console those who mourn. The Eucharist itself is now subordinated to the false god of “saving lives.”

Truth is another casualty of this sentimentalism. The media bombard the public with warnings about the danger posed by the coronavirus, when the truth is that only a small percent of the population of New York is at risk. By an unspoken agreement, leaders, public health officials, and media personalities conspire to heighten the atmosphere of crisis in order to get us to comply with their radical measures.

A number of my friends disagree with me. They support the current measures, insisting that Christians must defend life. But the pro-life cause concerns the battle against killing, not an ill-conceived crusade against human finitude and the dolorous reality of death.

Others speak as if triage signals moral failure. This is false. We are always doing triage. Only the great wealth of our society allows us to pretend otherwise. We do not spend 100 percent of GDP on healthcare. Even in normal times, we ration healthcare by price, waiting times, and physician discretion. We do not offer organ transplants willy-nilly. Our finitude always requires the hard moral labor of triage. That demand is now more visible, because the potent virus puts great pressure on our immune systems and healthcare systems. But it is always there.

Put simply: Only an irresponsible sentimentalist imagines we can live in a world without triage. We must never do evil that good might come. On this point St. Paul is clear. But we often must decide which good we can and should do, a decision that nearly always requires not doing another good, not binding a different wound, not saving a different life.

There is a demonic side to the sentimentalism of saving lives at any cost. Satan rules a kingdom in which the ultimate power of death is announced morning, noon, and night. But Satan cannot rule directly. God alone has the power of life and death, and thus Satan can only rule indirectly. He must rely on our fear of death.

In our simple-minded picture of things, we imagine a powerful fear of death arises because of the brutal deeds of cruel dictators and bloodthirsty executioners. But in truth, Satan prefers sentimental humanists. We resent the hard boot of oppression on our necks, and given a chance, most will resist. How much better, therefore, to spread fear of death under moralistic pretexts.

This is what is happening in New York as I write. The media maintain a drumbeat of warnings. And the message is not just that you or I might end up in an overloaded emergency room gasping for air. We are more often reminded that we can communicate the virus to others and cause their deaths.

Just so, the mass shutdown of society to fight the spread of COVID-19 creates a perverse, even demonic atmosphere. Governor Cuomo and other officials insist that death’s power must rule our actions. Religious leaders have accepted this decree, suspending the proclamation of the gospel and the distribution of the Bread of Life. They signal by their actions that they, too, accept death’s dominion.

More than one hundred years ago, Americans were struck by a terrible flu pandemic that affected the entire world. Their reaction was vastly different from ours. They continued to worship, go to musical performances, clash on football fields, and gather with friends.

We tell ourselves a fairy tale about that reaction: Those old-fashioned people were superstitious and ignorant about medical science. They abandoned the weak to the slaughter of the disease for no good reason. We, by contrast, are scientific and pro-active, meeting the threat of disease with much greater intelligence and moral rectitude. We suspend worship and postpone concerts. I’m sure we’ll cancel family reunions as well. We know best what is most important—saving lives!

That older generation that endured the Spanish flu, now long gone, was not ill-informed. People in that era were attended by medical professionals who fully understood the spread of disease and methods of quarantine. Unlike us, however, that generation did not want to live under Satan’s rule, not even for a season. They insisted that man was made for life, not death. They bowed their head before the storm of disease and endured its punishing blows, but they otherwise stood firm and continued to work, worship, and play, insisting that fear of death would not govern their societies or their lives.

We, by contrast, are collectively required to cower in fear—fear that we’ll die redoubled by the fear that we’ll cause others to die. We are stripped of whatever courage we might be capable of. Were I to host a small dinner party tonight, wanting to resist the paranoia and hysteria, I would be denounced. Yesterday, Governor Cuomo saw young people playing basketball in a New York City park. “It has to stop and it has to stop now,” he commanded. Everyone must live under death’s dominion.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn resolutely rejected the materialist principle of “survival at any price.” It strips us of our humanity. This holds true for a judgment about the fate of others as much as it does for ourselves. We must reject the specious moralism that places fear of death at the center of life.

Fear of death and causing death is pervasive—stoked by a materialistic view of survival at any price and unchecked by Christian leaders who in all likelihood secretly accept the materialist assumptions of our age. As long as we allow fear to reign, it will cause nearly all believers to fail to do as Christ commands in Matthew 25. It already is.

Presty the DJ for March 27

Today in 1958, CBS Records announced it had developed stereo records, which would sound like stereo only on, of course, stereo record players.

The irony is that CBS’ development aided its archrival, RCA, which owned NBC but also sold record players:

For similar reasons NBC was the first network to do extensive color. NBC was owned by RCA, which sold TVs.

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for March 27”

The costs of the coronavirus

I guarantee you no one in the Evers (mis)administration has read this, from Heather Mac Donald:

Less than 24 hours after California governor Gavin Newsom closed ‘non-essential’ businesses and ordered Californians to stay inside to avoid spreading the coronavirus, New York governor Andrew Cuomo followed suit. ‘This is about saving lives,’ Cuomo said during a press conference on Friday. ‘If everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.’

Cuomo’s assertion that saving ‘just one life’ justifies an economic shutdown raises questions that have not been acknowledged, much less answered, as public officials across the country compete to impose ever more draconian anti-virus measures:

  • Is there any limit to the damage we are willing inflict on the world economy to mitigate the infection?
  • What are the benefits of each new commerce-killing measure and how do they compare to the costs?
  • What are the criteria for declaring success in the coronavirus fight and who decides whether they have been met?

To ask about the costs and benefits of the spreading economic shutdowns guarantees an accusation of heartlessness. But the issue is not human compassion versus alleged greed. The issue is balancing one target of compassion against another. The millions of people whose lives depend on a functioning economy also deserve compassion. Many of the businesses that are now being shuttered by decree will never come back. They do not have the reserves to survive weeks or months without customers. In New York City, many streets were already blighted by rows of empty storefronts. The virus shutdown could knock out the remaining enterprises, as customers acclimate themselves further to ordering on-line. Layoffs are piling up in restaurants, hotels, and malls; on Tuesday, unemployment claims in California were 40 times above the daily average, an increase greater than any coronavirus surge.

It is low-wage employees who are most being hurt. The knowledge class can shelter in place and work from their home computers. Their employers are not shutting down. Not so people who physically provide goods and services. The employees who have been let off now may not be able to find work again if the economy continues to collapse. While governors and mayors declare some businesses essential and some not, to their employees, they are all essential.

A prolonged depression will stunt lives as surely as any viral epidemic, and its toll will not be confined to the elderly. The shuttering of auto manufacturing plants led to an 85 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths in the surrounding counties over seven years, according to a recent study. Radical social upheaval is possible.

The arts world is being decimated. For the last two years the New York Times and other left-wing newspapers have been bashing the boards of major cultural institutions for being too white and too male. Those institutions had better hope that their ‘non-diverse’ trustees feel flush enough after the $5 trillion loss in the stock market to bail them out.

While the coming explosion of deficit spending — possibly $2 trillion worth — may be necessary to keep people afloat, government cannot possibly replicate the wealth-creating effects of voluntary commerce. The enormously complex web of trade, once killed, cannot be brought back to life by government stimulus. And who is going to pay for all that deficit spending as businesses close and tax revenues disappear?

Pace Cuomo, it is not the case that saving even one life justifies any and every policy. Decision-making is always about trade-offs. About 16,000 Americans are murdered each year. That number could be radically lowered by locking up known gangbangers and throwing away the key. The left in America, however, is on a crusade to empty the prisons and stop enforcing a host of criminal laws. Some of the de-incarcerated and decriminalized will go on to maim and murder. An influential criminologist once acknowledged to me that lowering prison sentences in order to end so-called mass incarceration would inevitably mean that ‘some guy will throw a little old lady off the roof’. The answer is not to back off of de-incarceration, he said, it is to explain that the community in the aggregate is safer with resources diverted into social programs instead of incarceration. That is a perfectly defensible line of argument, regardless of whether one agrees with the particulars in this case.

Around 40,000 Americans die each year in traffic deaths. We could save not just one life but tens of thousands by lowering the speed limit to 25 miles per hour on all highways and roads. We tolerate the highway carnage because we value the time saved from driving fast more. Another estimated 40,000 Americans have died from the flu this flu season. Social distancing policies would have reduced that toll as well, but until now we have preferred freedom of association and movement.

So it is worth reviewing what we know and don’t know about the coronavirus epidemic to assess the benefits and costs of the growing policies. The rising number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is undoubtedly a function to a considerable extent of increased testing. We don’t know its transmission rate. We don’t know how much shutting down restaurants and air travel lowers that transmission rate. We still have no idea what the virus fatality rate is, since we don’t know how many people in the general population are infected. Early fatality estimates were undoubtedly too high, since they were derived from a small denominator composed of already identified, severe cases.

The only situation to date where an entire, closed population was tested was the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship, as Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis observed last week. Among seven hundred passengers and crew members, seven died, for a 1 percent mortality rate — low given the close and prolonged exposure among the passengers. A cruise ship’s population is much more elderly than the general population and thus more vulnerable to disease. Ioannidis suggests that a reasonable fatality estimate for the US population as a whole could range from 0.05 percent to 1 percent; he settles for 0.3 percent. If 1 percent of the US population becomes infected, under a 0.3 percent fatality rate, 10,000 people would die, a number that would not move the needle much on the existing level of deaths due to various types of influenzas, Ioannidis notes.

Those fatalities would be highly concentrated among the elderly and the already severely sick. In Italy, as of March 17, there were 17 virus deaths under the age of 50, out of a little over 2,000 total deaths. Eighty-eight percent of those deaths were concentrated in just two adjacent regions — Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna — out of 20 regions, rather than being spread throughout the country. Five males between the ages of 31 and 39 had died, all had serious preexisting conditions including cardiovascular and renal disease, diabetes, and obesity. The fatality rate for those under 30 was zero. The median age of Italy’s COVID-19 decedents was 80.5. They had a median of 2.7 pre-existing health conditions: 33 percent had coronary artery disease, 76 percent suffered from hypertension, 35 percent were diabetic, and 20 percent had had cancer in the last five years. Just 3 decedents had no pre-existing conditions.

Italy’s demographics are different from our own — it is an older population with a high concentration of Chinese workers, especially in the north. On February 1, the mayor of Florence called on Italians to hug a Chinese person to fight virus-induced racism. According to a propaganda video put out by the Chinese government, many Italians complied. Nevertheless, American virus deaths so far mirror the pattern of Italy: geographically clustered in three states and concentrated among the elderly or those with serious chronic medical conditions. In South Korea, too, deaths have hit the elderly, whereas as many as 99 percent of all infections have been mild.

Nevertheless, government authorities at the federal, state, and local levels are seizing powers unheard of in peace or even wartime. Many on the left want an even greater assumption of power. Michael Dorf, a Cornell University law professor, has urged the suspension of habeas corpus, to eliminate the possibility of a legal challenge to a national lockdown. It’s hard to avoid the impression that some see the current moment as a warm-up for their wish-list of sweeping economic interventions.

The New York Times has touted the benefits of social distancing and curtailed commerce for global warming and air pollution. ‘Never waste even a tragic crisis,’ the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at University of Minnesota told the Times with reference to global warming policy. (This is the same sage, Dr Michael Osterholm, who early on criticized President Trump’s prescient travel ban from China as more of an emotional or political reaction than a sound public health one.) European leftists are noting with delight that large-scale state intrusion into the economy is being normalized. Times columnist Farhad Manjoo gloated that ‘everyone’s a socialist in a pandemic’. Actually, we had better hope that everyone’s a capitalist, since it is the extraordinary flexibility and fecundity of America’s private businesses that are continuing to restock grocery shelves after the panicked hordes strip them bare. It is private businesses that are retooling themselves to produce much-needed medical equipment.

The press is working overtime to ensure maximum hysteria. The New York Times outdid itself on Saturday, following a weeklong run of terrifying front-page banner headlines. A blood red map of the US above the fold purported to show infections by July 1 if no restrictions were imposed on public life — a completely counterfactual projection, since numerous restrictions have already been imposed and more are being added daily. The headlines above the fold contained the usual blend of Trump-bashing and fear-mongering: ‘PRESSURE ON TRUMP AS MILLIONS ARE KEPT HOME’, ‘Mixed Signals From President Sow Confusion’, and ‘Virus Tightens Grip on Nation’. This at a time of 214 deaths and 17,000 infected, compared to the 36 to 51 million infected by the flu this season, and the 140 to 350 flu deaths a day.

‘America plunged into a deeper state of disruption and paralysis on Friday,’ opened the lead story. But that disruption and paralysis were man-made, caused by the stay at home orders, not by the actual medical consequences of the pandemic. It was not the virus that was tightening its grip on the nation, it was policy and fear.

To be sure, we are facing a daunting public health challenge. Thousands will die; every death will be a harrowing loss for the victim’s family. Our medical personnel are already being severely taxed; they deserve proper equipment and facilities. The government is right to coordinate and boost the effort to supply them with desperately needed protective gear. But the rush to impose sweeping restrictions on public and commercial life across the entire economy should be more carefully evaluated. We have no ability to test the efficacy of those measures and no criteria for lifting them. The downside risk to their being over-inclusive could well outweigh the upside risk.

Moreover, a certain percentage of social distancing is virtue theater. While the elites stay at home and carefully maintain their cordons sanitaires, they expect their food and other necessities to magically materialize from a vast and complex supply chain whose degree of social distancing is out of sight and out of mind.

We should focus our efforts on our known vulnerable populations — the elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them. The elderly should be protected from unknown contacts. Nursing homes must be immaculately maintained. But until there is clear evidence that canceling commerce is essential to preventing mass casualties, the stampede of shutdown oneupmanship should end.

And we know no one employed by Evers reads M.D. Kittle:

The economic casualties are piling up in the wake of Gov. Tony Evers’ restrictive orders shutting down business and sending workers home. 

And things are about to get much worse with Evers’ broad Emergency Order #12 going into effect. 

Jobless claims in the Badger State have soared, with north of 100,000 people filing for unemployment benefits between March 15 and 23, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. There were some 21,000 claims filed on Monday alone. 

That was before Evers’ latest order that requires all “non-essential” businesses to shut down and for “non-essential” workers to stay at home to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus. The order, which went into effect at 8 a.m. Wednesday, is tentatively scheduled to lift at 8 a.m. April 24. 

“We’ll be following the rules, but nobody can afford to shut down for 30 days,” Frank Irvine, owner of a  Play It Again Sports franchise in Eau Claire told the Leader-Telegram. Irvine, like so many other Badger State businesses, has been forced to cut staffing and hours. 

As employers urge lawmakers to act, they worry about the details of the massive $2 trillion relief package coming out of congress. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the bill “a wartime level of investment into our nation.” Democrats decried the initial proposal as a “500 billion slush fund” for business. They demanded changes. What liberals meant by “changes” was that they wanted to dump a lot more money in and smack businesses where they could. 

As the Wall Street Journal reported, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) bragged about the changes he secured to the bloated stimulus bill, but Schumer’s delay may have increased the incentive for employers to let go workers. 

“On top of the government enforced lockdowns which are destroying enterprises in many jurisdictions, the federal legislative trouble began last Wednesday with the enactment of expanded sick leave and family leave rights for employees,” James Freeman wrote in a piece headlined, “Will New Crisis Legislation Repair Damage from Last Week’s Crisis Legislation?” 

The problem is, while congress goes about trying to “save” the economy, provisions tucked in the package aimed at helping workers will drive employers out of business — taking good-paying jobs with them. 

“The very least that politicians like Sen. Schumer should be doing at this moment is to avoid placing new compliance burdens on companies watching their revenues collapse,” Freeman wrote. 

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Republican legislative leaders say they can’t even begin to talk relief packages for employers and workers at home until they figure out what the federal government is doing. 

“There’s a big chunk of that $2 billion bill I don’t think we should duplicate,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said Wednesday at a teleconference with the press. “We need to be smart and wise. We can’t print money and we can’t borrow for operations like the federal government does. We need to be judicious about how we spend state dollars.”