And I thought I might not have something to write about this week.
In an April 15 Associated Press article, Mike Stobbe reported, “The U.S. tally of coronavirus cases and deaths could soon jump because federal health officials will now count illnesses that are not confirmed by lab testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told states Tuesday to include probable COVID-19 cases in their reports to the agency. Previously, most states reported only lab-confirmed cases and deaths.”
I never trusted global counts and started questioning even US numbers when I heard that a doctor in our state blew the whistle on the CDC’s new practice, but because my source cited Facebook, I waited for a better one. The Associated Press was our gold standard back in the day when I was a journalist on a small daily in southern California and The AP picked up one of my pieces for its morning news feed. According to All Sides, it has a center media bias but has become more left-leaning since August 2019. So what’s the true COVID-19 count? Thanks to the CDC, Americans will never know.
On April 14, Senior Contributor Kenneth Rapoza of Forbes reported, “For months, anyone who said the new SARS coronavirus might have come out of a virology research lab in Wuhan, China was dismissed as a right wing xenophobe…. But on Tuesday, the narrative flipped. It’s no longer a story shared by China bears and President Trump fans. Today, Josh Rogin, who is said to be as plugged into the State Department as any Washington Post columnist, was shown documents dating back to 2015 revealing how the U.S. government was worried about safety standards at that Wuhan lab. In fact, they were worried that one day, one of these experiments — including the one on bat coronaviruses — could escape and become a global nightmare.”
Welcome to our nightmare.
A preview of what we might face is another April 15 headline, again by The AP: “China didn’t warn public of likely pandemic for 6 key days.” This article by The AP’s global investigative team says, “In the six days after top Chinese officials secretly determined they likely were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus, the city of Wuhan at the epicenter of the disease hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people; millions began traveling through for Lunar New Year celebrations. President Xi Jinping warned the public on the seventh day, Jan. 20. But by that time, more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press and expert estimates based on retrospective infection data.”
The article goes on to report, “But what is clear, experts say, is that China’s rigid controls on information, bureaucratic hurdles and a reluctance to send bad news up the chain of command muffled early warnings. The punishment of eight doctors for ‘rumor-mongering’, broadcast on national television on Jan. 2, sent a chill through the city’s hospitals. ‘Doctors in Wuhan were afraid’, said Dali Yang, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Chicago. ‘It was truly intimidation of an entire profession’.”
The article ends by noting, “The Wuhan Union Hospital, one of the city’s best, held an emergency meeting on Jan. 18, instructing staff to adopt stringent isolation — still before Xi’s public warning. A health expert told AP that on Jan. 19, she toured a hospital built after the SARS outbreak, where medical workers had furiously prepared an entire building with hundreds of beds for pneumonia patients. ‘Everybody in the country in the infectious disease field knew something was going on’, she said, declining to be named to avoid disrupting sensitive government consultations. ‘They were anticipating it’.”
For Americans, our nightmare may be only beginning. Citizens and politicians alike scoffed at coronavirus and roundly denounced President Trump as racist for imposing early travel bans. On February 24, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi invited the nation to join her at San Francisco’s Chinatown saying, “we should come to Chinatown. Precautions have been taken by our city. We know that there is concern surrounding tourism, traveling all throughout the world, but we think it’s very safe to be in Chinatown and hope that others will come.”
When asked, “Madam Speaker, is the federal government doing enough to control this virus and to get out this kind of message?” Speaker Pelosi replied, “I certainly hope so. I have confidence in Dr. Fauci at the National Institutes of Health, who has even further confidence in what we’re doing. I do have concern that the President’s budget cut nineteen percent of the Center for Disease Control. I don’t – and that’s the agency of prevention, so I’m [not] happy about that. We’ll fight that cut.”
There’s the CDC again. Now when I think of it, I feel apprehension similar to what I felt about a month ago when, in Remarks by President Trump and Prime Minister Varadkar of Ireland Before Bilateral Meeting Foreign Policy Issued on: March 12, 2020 , the president was asked, “Are you going to invoke the Stafford Act today, declaring a national emergency?” He answered, “Well, we have things that I can do. We have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act. And we are — we have it — I mean, I have it memorized, practically, as to the powers in that act. And if I need to do something, I’ll do it. I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about.” The president went on to clarify those options, including a payroll tax cut, which sounded a lot less scary. But guess which soundbite went national?
The next day, in a March 13 article for left-leaning Politico, Josh Gerstein wrote, “On Friday, Trump invoked his first significant emergency power since the coronavirus first appeared in January, declaring a national emergency. In its declaration, the White House cited two laws — the 1988 Stafford Act, a disaster relief law, and the 1976 National Emergencies Act, the law Trump used to divert government funds to build a southern border wall. For days, though, Trump had balked at exercising the power, even as he faced a chorus of calls from health groups, disaster relief specialists and Democrats to do so.”
Earlier in his article, Gerstein quoted Wendy Parmet, a law professor at Northeastern University: “The federal public health power is pretty awesome … awe-inspiring in its breadth. But there’s also obviously a lot of danger.”
Gerstein and Parmet’s concerns centered on the president abusing power, but Gerstein resorted to hearsay to explain President Trump’s restraint: “According to people familiar with the situation, Trump had been reluctant to take the step [of declaring a national emergency] because it could undermine his contention that the coronavirus outbreak is similar to seasonal flu.”
Later in the article Gerstein wrote, “The Centers for Disease Control, however, maintains that its quarantine powers go quite far. Regulations finalized by the Obama administration claim that federal officials can detain individuals if their illness could spread to other states. The rules essentially give the federal government the authority to stop and seize commuters in a bid to halt the spread of contagious disease. Whether it could allow a president to use the military to cordon off a city or a whole state is less clear, but experts say that the statutes and regulations could be read to allow for that.”
Is this why the CDC is padding numbers? Gerstein went on to say, “Federal regulations give the CDC sweeping powers if a state’s measures ‘are insufficient’ to prevent a disease from spreading into another state. The CDC chief is authorized to do what he or she ‘deems reasonably necessary’ under those circumstances. Whether that includes widespread restrictions on movement is unclear. Parmet, the Northeastern University law professor, stresses that the Constitution still applies. Aggressive federal government action on such vague authority could face legal challenges, especially if the moves don’t have a scientific basis. On the other hand, in a crisis judges tend to defer to executive authorities, including health officials.”
The Dr. Fauci aforementioned by Speaker Pelosi is now a prime visible (and sometimes even audible–against a biased press, to boot) advisor at President Trump’s coronavirus press briefings, but Speaker Pelosi and others now rail against President Trump for not acting sooner and severer. He has reacted by championing and signing a bipartisan stimulus bill for $2 trillion, adding to our current national debt of more than $17 trillion. This was supposed to give relief to businesses and individuals, most of which are still under lockdown. Our nation, for all practical purposes, is now a socialist state.
The populace has tasted the temporary utopia of being paid for not working–and sometimes, more than they would earn on the job. As Stephen Moore and Phil Kerpen, opinion contributors for The Hill, wrote on March 31 in “The $2 trillion relief package makes unemployment pay more than work,”We are not suggesting that Americans are lazy. Millions of workers across the country are itching to get back to work and earn a paycheck. The vast majority of people would surely rather work than collect unemployment. Millions of workers in tough jobs, however, will opt to take the money for not working. This will add tens of billions of dollars to our budget deficit and deprive many companies of the workers they need. It also is a matter of fairness.”
Will we ever regain our freedoms? What is the new normal: not just face coverings and social distancing, but also socialism and control too close to China’s for comfort?
In his March 13 Politico article, Gerstein noted radical action taken by officials in 1899-1900 during the bubonic plague: “Historically, officials at the state and local level have taken the most aggressive measures to address public health emergencies…. Nothing similar has happened yet in the U.S. during the coronavirus outbreak, although governors are increasingly flexing their legal muscle.”
More than a month later, those muscles give little indication of relaxing. Lord Acton said almost a hundred years after our nation’s birth, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”
President Trump’s detractors have always fancied him a Caesar in the making. COVID-19 has given him–and many others–the perfect excuse for power grabbing. So far he hasn’t, leaving authorities to govern their own jurisdictions–and been criticized for not doing enough. Maybe the power the president has enjoyed his whole life inoculates him to an extent from the headiness that would turn most, but what about other local, state, federal and international authorities…including the CDC?