Tag: coronavirus

Back-door orders, or getting counties to do what the state can’t legally do

Lexi Dittrich:

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.

Emergency public health ordinances have been proposed in MarathonWalworthWinnebagoOcontoJeffersonDodge, and Price Counties. Door County passed their public health ordinance on May 26.

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.”

Jefferson County’s Proposed Ordinance
The Jefferson and Winnebago County ordinances would allow the public health officer, with a special warrant, to “enter any private property, building, place of employment, vessel or conveyance not open to the public” to investigate “the presence” of any communicable disease.

Walworth County’s Proposed Ordinance
Ordinances from Marathon, Walworth, and Oconto Counties explicitly allow public health officials to “employ as many persons as are necessary to execute his or her orders and properly guard any place if quarantine.” Those new employees include “quarantine guards,” non-police officers given police powers to stand watch over an isolation location or individual.

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.

Marathon County’s Proposed 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.

Door County’s Proposed Ordinance
“Police powers do not belong with public health administrators,” said state Rep. Cody Horlacher (R-Mukwonago). “Police powers are rightfully delegated to law enforcement officials and that is where those powers should stay.”

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.

Winnebago County’s Proposed Ordinance
In the proposals from Marathon and Winnebago Counties, business owners could have health-related licenses and permits revoked for non-compliance with a health order.

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.

Dodge County’s Proposed Ordinance. See Section (d) for penalties including imprisonment.
“Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny, for one person to order people to be imprisoned for going to work among other ordinarily lawful activities?” Bradley had asked the Evers Administration’s legal counsel. “Where does the Constitution say that’s permissible?”

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.

Oconto County’s Proposed Ordinance
On inspection, many of these proposals are written similarly, with the exact same language in some cases. They all cite some of the same statutes, the same abilities of the public health officer. They all cite that unchecked powers are activated when there is the presence of a communicable disease.

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.

It’s only words

Andy Kessler:

Truth or consequences? “When I use a word,” says Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” In other words, anything he wants it to mean. Prescient. Today words are abused and truth has become so debased that no one believes anything anymore.

It started off Art Linkletter-like: Politicians say the darnedest things. You know—the definition of “is,” uranium yellowcake, if you like your doctor, the size of inauguration crowds. Facebook and Twitter now have truth squads trying to discern truths from fakes. Good luck with that. The Post-Truth Era not only has arrived; in three short months, we’ve descended into the depths of dishonesty dysfunction.

Even numbers. Now 2.2 million = 150,000? Imperial College London epidemiologist Neil Ferguson helped force much of the world into lockdowns with his forecast of 2.2 million U.S. deaths. He assumed 268 million of Americans, or 81%, would be infected. So far it’s 2.3 million. As Bob Uecker would say, “Juuust a bit outside.” Mr. Ferguson then put the hip in hypocritical, having his married girlfriend break the stay-at-home order he inspired.

The White House was also math-challenged. Its “15 Days to Slow the Spread” quickly became 30. Which is it? We flattened the curve, and a quarter of the economy. No matter, we’re now on day 90, quarantine crazy and hankering for haircuts.

The World Health Organization declared in March that you don’t need to wear masks, probably because of the world-wide shortage. California now requires them, even outside. Again, which is it? Whacked in the head so many times with untruths, you stop believing anyone.

OK, those were emergency conditions, where anyone could make mistakes. Except, except—our leaders continue to be the worst offenders. “Follow the science!” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti declared residents could only use the “wet sand” part of the beach to go swim. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said dry sandy beaches are fine but swimmers would be “taken right out the water.” Not very scientific.

The unhealthy behavior of 250 maskless anti-lockdown protesters in Lansing, Mich., was deemed “abhorrent.” Two weeks later, thousands protesting for social justice on the streets of major cities were given a hall pass. If it weren’t for double standards, there wouldn’t be any standards at all.

It’s gotten worse. New York changed the rules to minimize reported Covid deaths from nursing homes. Talking heads babbled about peaceful protesters while stores were on fire. NBC News’s “Verification Unit” does no such thing. (Formerly) respected reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones said that destruction of property “is not violence.” That’s obviously not true, but there it is.

The media’s reputation has imploded. The New York Times ran a 700-word article on the manhunt to track down a Bethesda, Md., biker who pushed to the ground young women putting up Black Lives Matter signs. Good, arrest him. I have yet to see arrest coverage anywhere of the guy I watched on CNN who drove up to the Chicago Lake Liquors store being looted in Minneapolis, put his hazards on so he wouldn’t get a ticket, loaded cases of liquor into his vehicle, and drove away—all with his license plate visible.

Everyone looks bad. In our nation’s capital, Park Police say “no tear gas was used”—except that some substances were released that made protesters’ eyes tear. And the tweeter-in-chief bunker visit was “more for an inspection.” Removing cobwebs? Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan claims the former Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (now called the Occupied Protest, or CHOP) is “more like a block party.” C’mon down for the funnel cakes, just ignore the graffiti and AR-15-toting warlord.

James Clapper repeated for years on cable TV that there was Russian meddling in the 2016 election, after stating under oath in July 2017 to Rep. Adam Schiff and others that “I never saw any direct empirical evidence.” That’s pretty cut and dry. Their morals disappear. A disgrace. Do we want guests on cable channels to be sworn in? Maybe.

We need words to mean something. Climate change watered down the word “existential” (as in threat—build an ark!). “Holistic” (as in admissions) is almost meaningless. “Systemic,” “implicit” and even “defund” are more diluted every day.

I call it the Zinnification of discourse, named for the Marxist and anarchist—with the Matt Damon movie shoutout—whose history textbook presents a twisted and discredited version of the U.S. But it fits a popular narrative, so it’s still used in many high schools.

I don’t know, maybe this is all someone’s master plan. Sow enough seeds of doubt and we lay folk will look for salvation. The cool kids like to use the term gaslighting, a slow psychological torture of people until they question their own sanity. Slow? It took only 15 days of pandemic panic to slow the spread of truth. Words need meaning. But don’t expect it from the Humpty Dumptys in today’s politics and media.

The Trumpavirus!

Newsweek shows why it no longer exists as a news magazine:

Cases of the novel coronavirus in Oklahoma continue to climb, with the state reporting a record 478 new infections on June 21, the highest daily case count since the outbreak began, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The latest spike was seen a day after President Donald Trump’s rally was held Saturday in Tulsa, the county seat of Tulsa County.

A record single-day rise of 143 new cases was also reported Sunday in Tulsa County, according to the latest data from the Tulsa Health Department.

Was Newsweak trying to say that people went to Trump’s rally and immediately got sick? This would be news. As a commenter put it, “Somehow, people went to rally, got sick, got tested, and got their results back all in 36 hours.”

To socially distance, or not

Rich Lowry:

Earlier this week, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot had big news: The city is opening up its iconic Lakefront Trail after months of being closed off as part of a COVID-19 lockdown.

That Lightfoot kept the trail closed even after Chicago had experienced large-scale Black Lives Matter marches — thousands just last weekend during the “Drag March for Change” — is one small instance of the flagrant social-distancing hypocrisy across the country in recent weeks.

If it’s okay for throngs of people to pack the streets and shout and chant to protest the death of George Floyd, it ought to be permissible for someone to ride a bike along the lakeside while keeping to him- or herself. In fact, one involves sustained interaction with other people, and perhaps fights with the police, while the other is a solitary activity, or one undertaken with a friend or a spouse.

Yet, Mayor Lightfoot welcomed the protestors — “We want people to come and express their passion,” she said — and still kept the trail shuttered.

Many of the same officials who were most zealous in locking down their states and cities instantly made an exception for Black Lives Matter protests. Their rigidity became laxity in a blink of an eye. Their metric for reopening wasn’t the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines or any other public-health measure but the “wokeness” of the activity in question.

Visiting the deathbed of a loved one with COVID-19? Absolutely not. Having a proper funeral? No way. Gathering more than about ten people at a graveside? No one should be allowed to put the public at risk in such a way.

Bringing thousands of strangers to march together for hours in spontaneous, disorderly groups? Thank you for your commitment to positive change.

Attending a church service? Well, maybe in a couple of months.

Holding a struggle session with religious trappings where people confess their racism and vow to work to defund the police? Please, let’s have more.

The wholly unserious Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan professed to be deeply disturbed by a protest against her arbitrary lockdown rules, even though it largely consisted of people driving around the state capitol in their cars. She spun nightmare scenarios of a spike in COVID-19. That didn’t stop her earlier in the month from joining a march against police brutality with hundreds of non–socially distanced people, explaining that it was “an important moment” to show her “support.”

Virtue-signaling is now an essential activity in Michigan.

To believe the leaders of Blue America, SARS-CoV-2 is the first virus in human history to have a social conscience — virulent enough in the ordinary course of events to justify the most restrictive social controls, but not such a big deal if it might get in the way of marches for social justice.

The likes of Mayor Bill de Blasio have justified the different standards by arguing that fighting racism is important. Well, so is mourning your dead, keeping your business from being ground to dust, and worshiping your God. It’s a sign of a ludicrously blinkered worldview to believe that a protest march deserves more consideration than these other elemental human needs.

Another argument is that the protesters are willing to put their health on the line for their cause, a sign of their deepfelt devotion to their cause. But, until recently, it was said that people going outside weren’t just endangering themselves but the most vulnerable residents in our communities. Why wouldn’t that be true of the Black Lives Matter marches, too?

Don’t expect consistency, or even a serious attempt at it. More than 1,000 public-health experts signed a letter calling the protests “vital to the national public health,” thus immolating their credibility on a pyre of motivated reasoning. It’s social distancing for people and activities they find uncongenial, and different rules for their ideological allies.

What a contemptible betrayal of the public trust.

News from the opinion page

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.

 

COVID reality

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.

 

COVID-19, government 0

J.D. Tuccille:

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” becausein 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 illand 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 rivalsan 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 moveput off when upstaters pushed back hardis 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 instigatorsespecially 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 figuresabout 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 soand 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 downand 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.

Coronavirus-divided America

Daniel Mitchell discusses …

… the degree to which the coronavirus has exposed the fault line between those who are subsidized by government and those who pay for government.

In her Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan opines about how the “protected” don’t have to worry about the consequences of economic shutdowns.

There is a class divide between those who are hard-line on lockdowns and those who are pushing back. We see the professionals on one side—those James Burnham called the managerial elite, and Michael Lind, in “The New Class War,” calls “the overclass”—and regular people on the other. The overclass are highly educated and exert outsize influence as managers and leaders of important institutions—hospitals, companies, statehouses. …Since the pandemic began, the overclass has been in charge—scientists, doctors, political figures, consultants—calling the shots for the average people. But personally they have less skin in the game. The National Institutes of Health scientist won’t lose his livelihood over what’s happened. Neither will the midday anchor. I’ve called this divide the protected versus the unprotected. … Here’s a generalization based on a lifetime of experience and observation. The working-class people who are pushing back have had harder lives than those now determining their fate. They haven’t had familial or economic ease. No one sent them to Yale. … they look at these scientists and reporters making their warnings about how tough it’s going to be if we lift shutdowns and they don’t think, “Oh what informed, caring observers.” They think, “You have no idea what tough is. You don’t know what painful is.”

Fareed Zakaria’s column for the Washington Post acknowledges that it is a problem when a bunch of cossetted elites make policy for everyone else.

…there is a broader distrust that we need to understand. …Social power exists in three realms — government, the economy, and the culture. … In all three, leaders tend to be urban, college-educated professionals, often with a postgraduate degree. That makes them quite distinct from much of the rest of the country. …And yet, the top echelons everywhere are filled with this “credentialed overclass.” … many non-college-educated people … see the overclass as enacting policies that are presented as good for the whole country but really mostly benefit people from the ruling class … Let’s look at the covid-19 crisis through this prism. Imagine you are an American who works with his hands — a truck driver, a construction worker, an oil rig mechanic — and you have just lost your job… You turn on the television and hear medical experts, academics, technocrats and journalists explain that we must keep the economy closed — in other words, keep you unemployed — because public health is important. All these people making the case have jobs, have maintained their standards of living… The covid-19 divide is a class divide.

Writing for USA Today, Professor Glenn Reynolds observes that the self-anointed experts are not the ones paying the price for coronavirus policies.

… it’s hard not to notice a class divide here. As with so many of America’s conflicts, the divide is between the people in the political/managerial class on the one hand and the people in the working class on the other. And as usual, the smugness and authoritarianism are pretty much all on one side. … in Los Angeles — where less than half the county is working now — radio journalist Steve Gregory asked the L.A. County Board of Supervisors whether any of them were willing to take voluntary pay cuts during this crisis. He was told by the chair that his question was “irresponsible,” which is to say embarrassing and inconvenient. (By contrast, New Zealand’s senior officials, including the prime minister, are taking a 20% pay cut.) … There really are two Americas here: Those still getting a paycheck from government, corporations or universities, and those who are unemployed, or seeing their small businesses suffer due to shutdowns. …Then there are the hypocritical gestures, like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s illicit haircut … People don’t appreciate being lectured and condescended to and bossed around. They especially don’t appreciate being urged to sacrifice by people who make no sacrifices themselves.

I’m tempted to focus on Glenn’s point about how American politicians should follow the lead of New Zealand lawmakers and accept a pay cut as a gesture of solidarity.

Heck, all levels of bureaucracy should take a haircut. Bureaucrats already have a significant advantage in compensation compared to the private sector, and that gap surely will grow now that so many businesses have been shuttered and so many workers have been forced into unemployment.

But I want to focus on a different point, which is the inherent unfairness of the elite having consequence-free power and authority over ordinary people.

In part, it’s the point that Thomas Sowell makes in the accompanying quote.

But it goes beyond that. The problem with the “overclass” or “protected class” is that they also don’t pay any price when they’re totally right, somewhat right, or only partly right.

In other words, the people who live off the government, either directly or indirectly, have relatively comfortable lives — all financed by the people who deal with much greater levels of hardship and uncertainty.

At the risk of understatement, that’s not right.

P.S. This gap is exacerbated when government officials display thuggery rather than empathy.

Evers’ coronablunder

By now the state has had almost a day to digest the state Supreme Court’s decision invalidating the latest Safer at Home order.

Safer at Home’s apparent demise is entirely the fault of the Evers administration, though Republicans in the state Legislature deserve blame, as I’ve written here before, for relying on the courts instead of their own legislative power to negate or at least modify Safer at Home. But the strikedown of Safer at Home is the fault of its creators, and those were not Republicans. If you do something and the legal system smacks you down, that’s your fault for doing that didn’t pass legal or constitutional muster.

There are both legal and political dimensions to this. It is impossible for me to believe that no one in the Evers administration believed there might be legal problems with the vast array of Evers’ executive orders. Lawyers are supposed to find potential legal problems, even theoretical legal problems, and if no one in the Evers administration did, then Evers (or whoever did his administration’s hiring) did a bad job of hiring legal counsel. It’s as if the Evers administration is one big echo chamber where never is heard a discouraging word.

The political dimension is even worse. I’ve quoted one of my favorite political truths that crises are crises only when people in charge act as if they are crises. That has not been the case among the political class, beginning with Evers. A statesman would have asserted that this was a serious situation, and as evidence have showed how he worked with his political opposition on something that everyone, whether they voted for him or not, should be able to live with.

Evers claimed during a press conference in April that he believed “my people” talked to “their people” — that is, respectively, Evers’ staff and staff for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R–Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R–Juneau) — almost every day. For those who believe Evers’ decisions are actually the decisions of his staff, notably chief of staff Maggie Gau, that was an accidentally revealing statement.

It is also revealing that Evers did not himself talk to Assembly Republicans until the lawsuit against Safer at Home was already in the Supreme Court. That and the systematic lightening of Safer at Home makes one think that decisions have been made for some time on something other than “data and science” — specifically, a political conclusion that Safer at Home wasn’t as legally safe as Evers kept asserting.

A governor who realized that he was the governor of Wisconsinites who didn’t vote for him and/or voted for Republicans to represent them in the Legislature would have followed the maxim to keep your friends close and your enemies closer by giving the opposition at least an opportunity to participate in the creation of Safer at Home. If the GOP leadership refused, Evers could have said during his news conferences that he gave the GOP a chance and they wouldn’t cooperate. If for no other reason, the political aspirations of Vos (governor) and Fitzgerald (Congress) would have forced them to work with Evers.

(The latter point is not the same thing as Evers’ assertions that the Republicans had no plan. The Republicans had at least two plans, the plan from Rep. Cory Horlacher (R–Mukwonago) and the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce plan. Maybe Evers didn’t like those plans, but the GOP had plans, even though the GOP did little to advance those plans in the Legislature.)

Evers himself said he didn’t think he and the GOP were that far apart. We may find out whether that’s true given that the six-day extension sought in the GOP lawsuit wasn’t approved because the opinion written by Chief Justice Patience Roggensack said Evers and the GOP should have been working together in the period after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case to come up with something that passed legal and constitutional muster.

I wish the Supreme Court had invalidated the statute upon which Safer at Home was (illegally) created. It is impossible for me to believe that those who wrote the state Constitution ever intended for unlimited governmental power to be wielded by someone for whom no one had the chance to vote on the grounds of an “emergency,” something that can be abused to, for instance, intern Japanese–Americans during World War II.

Had the Evers administration possessed some legal sense, it would have sent Safer at Home through the correct rule-making process. That would have resulted in some changes, but that would have co-opted the GOP since whichever committee(s) would have signed off on Safer at Home. That’s a real definition of “we’re all in this together,” not what those supporting lockdowns while suffering no financial hardship were asserting.

Evers has a news conference today at 1:30 p.m. I assume Evers will continue his verbal war that fired up last night against legislative Republicans. An honest governor would instead say something like this:

“The Safer at Home order was intended to protect Wisconsinites from this virus. But in doing so we made some decisions that according to the highest court in our state are not proper under state law, and we are a land of laws, not of men0. I call upon the leaders of the Legislature to work with us so that we keep Wisconsinites state in ways that are appropriate under state law and our state Constitution.”

I predict you won’t hear that today.

 

Safer at (the next) home

Democrat Dan Adams and Republican Brian Fraley:

Well, the Supreme Court has decided. Now what?

First of all – the court’s decision is no cause for unbridled celebration. Nor is this a time for public tantrums. It is time for the Governor and the leaders of the Legislature to develop, pass and implement bipartisan plans to: 

  1. Continue to mitigate the risk of the Coronavirus;
  2. Safely and briskly resume economic and social activities with new social distancing guidelines;
  3. Address the budgetary shortfalls at the State and Local levels that have resulted from the current Safer at Home orders and whatever soon-to-be-imposed regulations and laws.

We were encouraged that the Governor and Legislative leaders met last week after almost two months of talking past each other. It is in the best interest of everyone in Wisconsin that they now meet, every day, until the three areas listed above have been adequately addressed.

It is not time to lift all restrictions. On this point the vast majority of Wisconsinites agree. We remain in the middle of a pandemic. But it is time to move forward. 

Yet, even as restrictions are removed and revised, a heightened level of personal vigilance will be needed for years. Indeed, the key to fighting this pandemic is personal responsibility – our culture has adapted to this long term fight. And it is the voluntary actions of citizens that will defeat the virus. 

But as government officials ask us to be responsible and empathetic, we ask the same of our government officials.

It’s time to move forward, together, and create a steady recovery plan that is so widely-accepted and praised that the November elections will be about who gets the most credit for the achievement, not who gets the blame for failing to act.

When the Republicans and Democrats meet, we hope they bring medical professionals and researchers into the discussion (scientists, not merely advocates for the various components of our health care system). We have a deep and devoted cadre of them in the public and private sector here in Wisconsin. 

We would prefer to have these meetings be public, broadcast and live streamed. New public health policies will be more broadly embraced and adhered to if they are borne of a process that was transparent. Ultimately, our government’s actions will be more apt to be followed if they are draped in the legitimacy that open meetings would provide. 

In the event that these meetings are not public, we would hope to see bipartisan daily briefings that summarize the days accomplishments and forecast the work ahead.

One likely scenario is the Department of Health Services will promulgate an emergency rule, which would immediately be subjected to legislative review by the Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules. So, JCRAR could be the forum where the bipartisan compromise is forged. In theory, the full legislature could convene to  pass their own plan in bill form but the subsequent veto battles would have politicians fighting and place the economic and physical health of Wisconsinites in the crossfire. 

It is time to put partisanship aside. Ignore the vitriol from the extreme ends of the political spectrum and instead focus on the possible, not the ideologically pure. It is time to meet and work together, to protect public health, preserve our healthcare system, and get Wisconsin’s economy and society working again. 

For what it’s worth, we drafted the bulk of this piece BEFORE we knew the outcome of the court case. Because the task before our leaders would be the same whether Governor Evers’ Administration had unlimited authority or not.  

It’s time to come together to open Wisconsin and fight the Coronavirus at the same time. For the sake of jump-starting the discussions, here’s an opening offer our leaders could consider.

  • [This] morning, all businesses, whether they provide goods or services, could (if they so choose) open at 20% of their fire code capacity.
  • In counties where the positive test result percentages and hospitalization rates are less than 50% of the Statewide average, that restriction could be 40% of the occupancy limit.
  • Social distancing, hygiene and mask use should continue to be promoted.
  • All employees who can reasonably perform their duties remotely should be allowed to do so.
  • Houses of worship could also open, subject to their respective county’s occupancy limits.
  • Continue to expand the occupancy limits by 20% of fire code capacity per week, as long as case and testing numbers remain steady or in decline.
  • In areas where the positive test percentage remains at or above 10%, cap the occupancy at 60% of the fire code limit.
  • Impose tighter restrictions where caseloads spike.

This is not a perfect plan. But it’s a starting point. They need to start somewhere. All or nothing gets us nothing.

Now is the time for heroes. We believe that together our leaders can become heroes. Let’s see if they believe the same. 

There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. Julius Caesar, Act 4, scene 3, 218-222.