Mar 16, 2020

The government tries to respond to coronavirus.

The government tries to respond to coronavirus.

Plus, a question about what I'm doing and a story about the courts.

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Today’s read: 9 minutes.

Quite a bit of coronavirus coverage, an important story about the courts and some numbers to keep an eye on.

Vice President Mike Pence, in charge of the coronavirus response, speaks to reporters.

Editor’s note.

Today’s newsletter is heavy on coronavirus coverage. I know from talking to a lot of friends and readers that all this coronavirus news is absolutely overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. It has been tough for me too, especially given that I’m in New York City — a place very vulnerable to the worst elements of the virus. My hope and plan is that one day this week I will do a coronavirus-free newsletter. I also am doing my best to avoid the hysteria or clickbait that defines so much of the coverage right now. All that being said: this is historic in almost every way. I don’t think many living people have experienced or seen anything like this, and I truly believe the next few weeks will be a significant part of U.S. history. So while I’ll do my best not to be overly-focused on the virus, and I hope to do a coronavirus-free write up this week, I also know I have an obligation to keep you all updated on what’s happening day in and day out. Especially for those of you who have written in and told me Tangle is one of your only sources of news. Please feel free to reach out if you have any feedback or thoughts on how to improve the coverage.

The debate.

Last night, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders participated in a historic, audience-free, one-on-one debate. The setting got high marks from viewers who felt removing the audience (and dozens of other candidates) encouraged more substantive debates with less theater and fewer attempts to drop made-for-applause lines. The debates came ahead of voting that’s supposed to take place on Tuesday in Florida, Arizona, Ohio and Illinois. The big news was former Vice President Joe Biden’s pledge to pick a woman as his VP if and when he secures the nomination. Both Biden and Sanders were also mocked for their age, as each repeatedly mixed up the coronavirus pandemic with SARS and Ebola. Bernie spent most of the night pleading for Medicare-for-All and using the coronavirus outbreak and the need for free or cheap health care as justification. Biden noted that there was a single-payer system in Italy and it wasn’t doing them much good right now.

What D.C. is talking about.

Coronavirus and the government. Over the weekend, federal, state and local governments have been doing their best to respond to the global pandemic. President Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, freeing up $50 billion to address the crisis. Late Friday night, the House approved a bipartisan aid package to provide free coronavirus testing, sick pay for about 20% of all workers, unemployment benefits and a ramp-up of food programs. "Good teamwork between Republicans & Democrats as the House passes the big CoronaVirus Relief Bill,” President Trump tweeted. “People really pulled together. Nice to see!" The bill still needs to hit the Senate this week, then the president’s desk for signing. President Trump was also tested for the virus after interacting with several people who were positive for COVID-19 — his results were negative, the White House said. In the meantime, state governments across the United States have closed schools, bars and restaurants. The CDC is now recommending that there be no events with 50 or more people for two weeks. “For a while, life is not going to be the way it used to be in the United States,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Sunday. “We have to just accept that if we want to do what’s best for the American public.” New York City and Los Angeles, two of the largest city economies in the world, are asking all non-essential public businesses to close and are urging restaurants to switch to takeout and delivery only. For the first time in 102 years, the Supreme Court is suspending oral arguments. Finally, the Federal Reserve threw a hail mary and slashed interest rates while simultaneously announcing a $700 billion bond-buying program. That means when we get past this, businesses will be able to take out loans from the banks at the lowest possible rates, a move that the government hopes will prevent thousands of businesses from folding. It didn’t help the markets on Monday morning, though, as they immediately plummetted 9% and set off a circuit breaker stoppage to all trading.

What the left is saying.

In the last 72 hours, Trump and his administration have continued to mishandle the coronavirus outbreak. On Friday, Trump made it sound like Google was building a giant platform to provide mass testing and resources for Americans. Then we found out that was basically B.S. The reality was a Google subsidiary, Verily, was in the early stages of developing a testing program for San Francisco alone. Google quickly tried to catch up to the president’s claims by saying it was building out a national version of the site. Then the airport crisis: huge hubs across America were overwhelmed with passengers after Trump’s unexpected travel ban. That left thousands of people standing in close quarters with each other waiting for hours to get tested — or simply get through customs — to get back into the states. The close-quarter huddling is exactly what people shouldn’t be doing, and most weren’t even getting tested on their way in. German papers also reported that U.S. officials were trying to pay a Geerman company developing a vaccine to relocate to the U.S. and Trump wanted to secure the work exclusively for Americans, hoarding the vaccines from thousands who needed it. In the meantime, Bernie and Biden camps are still sparring: a Sanders surrogate told her Twitter followers it may not be safe to vote on Tuesday while Joe Biden urged people to hit the polls.

What the right is saying.

Many Republicans are starting to take the virus a lot more seriously. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio posted a clear, direct plea to his constituents on why they should practice extreme social distancing. Republicans have also unified around Trump: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin cut a deal with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the package that the Senate could vote on as soon as tonight. Trump’s top officials all supported the European travel restrictions. Top administration officials are following CDC’s guidelines on social distancing now. Mike Pence has been accessible, holding daily press briefings filled with calm and direct answers. And none of this is Trump’s fault: it’s China’s. Let’s not forget it was the Chinese government that lied and tried to cover up the virus’s spread in the initial days, which contributed to the entire globe being caught flat-footed by a pandemic we didn’t understand or see coming. Trump is now successfully leveraging the full power of both the public and private sector, bringing in huge business leaders to move collectively against the virus while simultaneously pulling every lever he has: fed rate cuts, massive spending and relief bills and a national guidance on social distancing. It also sounds like there is progress being made on a vaccine and regulations that have slowed down the testing holdups are being slashed.

My take.

I hesitate to write what I’m about to write because I understand that the point of this newsletter is to elevate both sides in as reasonable a way as possible. But I also have an obligation to my readers to be as honest as I can about what I’m seeing. If you’ve spent time reading this newsletter, you’ve probably gathered that I fall pretty center-left on a lot of issues — and that I have a lot of gripes with Trump. And while the last few days have seen many responsible Republican politicians and talking heads rising to the moment, there’s a simple reality I can’t ignore: by far the most dangerous actions and rhetoric during this pandemic are coming from the right. Fox News hosts continue to insist this is a “plot against the president” and were even urging their followers to fly this weekend because flights were cheap and empty. Many right-wing talking heads on Twitter are totally incapable of criticizing Trump in any way and instead throw the blame solely on China. Which, hey, I get it: China bears more responsibility for anyone in this outbreak. But how Trump has responded so far also matters, and people are trying to rewrite history from a week ago.

The president did not take this virus as seriously as the health experts around him or his Democratic counterparts. He downplayed it, compared it to the flu, insisted we had it under control and was reluctant to tell people to take the most important measures in slowing down its spread. He also said “nobody expected it,” which is patently false. Experts warned about just this kind of outbreak for years. He could have begun encouraging social distancing a week ago but he didn’t. Republicans like Devin Nunes went on TV yesterday and urged people to continue to patron bars and restaurants, an insanely irresponsible suggestion totally at odds with what the CDC and other medical experts suggest. Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who Trump once considered for a spot in the Department of Homeland Security, told his Twitter followers to “go into the streets, visit bars, restaurants, shopping malls, churches and demand your schools re-open,” claiming this was all a socialist government plot to tank the economy and hurt Trump. He also suggested Jewish billionaire and Democratic donor George Soros was “somewhere involved in this.” Former NYPD commissioner and Trump fan Bernard Kerik shared numbers on flu deaths and said: “this hysteria is being created to destabilize the country, and destroy the unparalleled and historic economic successes of President Trump.” All of this is — in a word — unhinged. Democrats are not behind the virus. Democrats do not want the economy to tank. Democrats do not want Americans to die. The stock market is not tanking because of Democrats. It’s tanking because global supply chains are being thrashed and consumer spending is about to plummet.

This weekend was not good for the White House’s case that they’re handling things well. I often say it’s too early to call balls and strikes — and it still is. But the shortage of tests is still yet to be resolved. Pence said there would be millions of test kits on the way — that was six days ago. Where are they? What’s the update? We’re struggling to come up with a coherent plan to stockpile the necessary ventilators even for modest projections of the outbreak. Last night, I spoke to NYC councilmember Mark Levine and he told me hospitals here are already seeing a huge uptick in people with COVID-19 cases. He said they will almost certainly be overwhelmed in the next two weeks. Yet some of Trump’s most staunch supporters are still pretending this is all a panic-inducing plot put together by the left to hurt the president. It’s not. The virus is serious and we need three things to fight it: tests, ventilators and social distancing. The administration, and the right in general, is not getting high marks on providing or promoting any of those over the last couple of weeks. And while I always do my best to present the best arguments from each side, this morning I found myself more aligned with “What the left is saying” than at almost any other time writing this newsletter.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Tangle is all about reader questions. If you want to get into the mix, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in with a question.

Q: From some light Googling, I gathered that you’re a young guy living in New York City. I’m curious: what are you doing personally doing as a response to coronavirus? How seriously are your friends taking it?

- Theresa, Birmingham, AL

Tangle: I’ve been taking social distancing pretty seriously since about Tuesday or Wednesday of last week. The most impactful thing I saw that convinced me to be serious about social distancing was this coronavirus simulator from The Washington Post. It’s not prophecy, it’s just math. By staying apart from each other we can all play a role in slowing this thing down.

Before then, I was mostly echoing people’s warnings about how dangerous the virus was and washing my hands a lot. But my attention to the details changed a lot in the middle of last week, and it became clear from the experts that the single biggest thing you could do was avoid restaurants, bars, crowded areas and so on. By sheer luck, my office began renovation two weeks ago, so I’ve actually been working from home for the last two weeks. My fiance is in school at CUNY, which canceled classes last Wednesday, and she began working from home today.

As for people in my age group: it’s pretty mixed. In New York City, I’d say a majority of my friends are taking it really seriously. I know quite a few people who have been staying at home for four or five days now. I had three friends over on Saturday night, but that’s the most I’ve seen of anyone. I also know a number of people who are still going out to bars and restaurants — or were as of Saturday night. My friends in the Philadelphia area seem a little less worried, but I think a big part of that is because New York City is ahead on the number of coronavirus cases and probably at more of a risk. Walking around New York the last few days, I still saw gatherings for pickup basketball games, people outside at bars, etc. I don’t really think the warnings did much this past weekend, but things took a big change in the last 24 hours. With schools closed and bars and restaurants now ordered to do takeout delivery, I think people are going to start seeing the disruption a lot more up close and (hopefully) take everything more seriously.

Aside from that, I’m washing my hands religiously and wiping down doorknobs and things like that just to be safe. My general attitude is that if things turn out to be not as bad as we thought, I’ll be relieved and feel like I played a small role in helping. I’ll know they didn’t get that bad because people acted. If things get really bad, I will know I had no reason to be embarrassed about taking it seriously and did everything I could. In that sense, taking it seriously is a win-win and I’m going to try to embrace the opportunity to spend some time at home. As one older, wiser friend put it: “The social distance of the next number of weeks may never be repeated in our lifetime. Spending time with those you live with, reading, catching old movies, etc is a pretty novel opportunity.” Try to embrace it.

A story that matters.

The New York Times did a deep dive into President Trump’s appellate court judges that have been nominated and confirmed during his presidency. As I’ve long said, Trump’s reshaping of the courts will continue to be the biggest conservative achievement of his presidency and the most lasting thing he does in office. “The review shows that the Trump class of appellate judges, much like the president himself, breaks significantly with the norms set by his Democratic and Republican predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush,” The Times reported. “The lifetime appointees — who make up more than a quarter of the entire appellate bench — were more openly engaged in causes important to Republicans, such as opposition to gay marriage and to government funding for abortion.” You can read the analysis here.


  • 160,000. The number of ventilators in U.S. hospitals, according to a recent study from Johns Hopkins.
  • 64,000. The low-end estimate for how many ventilators we’ll need to address coronavirus.
  • 740,000. The high-end estimate for how many ventilators we’ll need to address coronavirus.
  • 70%. The percentage of the economy supported by consumer spending, which is grinding to a halt.
  • 74%. People who worry that there is a lot of fake news and false information being spread about the virus.
  • 30 million. The estimated number of kids who won’t go to school starting this week.
  • 61%. The percentage of Democratic voters who say they are stopping or plan to stop attending large public gatherings.
  • 40%. The percentage of Republican voters who say they are stopping or plan to stop attending large public gatherings.

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Have a nice day.

Despite the panic, the U.S. is not running out of food. Empty grocery store shelves are a product of panic buying, but have nothing to do with our food supply — which is healthy. The nation’s biggest retailers, dairy farmers and meat producers say the food supply chain is strong and is actually ramping up to meet the increased demand as restaurants and bars shutter across the U.S. While you may encounter some empty shelves over the next few weeks, that’s just a sign that the suppliers are adjusting to the new demand. Fortunately, the food supply is not threatened here and you can expect the things you want to be restocked shortly if they aren’t already. Click.

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