Apr 15, 2020

Trump cuts funding to the World Health Organization.

Trump cuts funding to the World Health Organization.

Plus, a question about essential workers.

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Today’s read: 8 minutes.

Trump cuts WHO funding, a question about additional payment for essential workers, and an important story about “re-opening” the U.S.

World Health Organization’s Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (right), who is under fire, shaking hands with Houlin Zhao, the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union. Photo: ITU

Heads up.

Yesterday, I wrote about how some Americans may experience delays in receiving their checks from the federal government. Others may lose their check to debt collectors if they don’t withdraw the money soon enough. Because I make less than $75,000 a year, I am eligible. This morning, I woke up to see that I received the $1,200 check from the IRS that is part of The CARES Act. Here is what it looked like in my bank account:

What D.C. is talking about.

Yesterday, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would cut its funding to the World Health Organization, the public health agency of the United Nations. The U.S. provided $453 million to the WHO in 2019. “The WHO failed in its basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump said during a news conference. “So much death has been caused by their mistakes.” An administration official told the Wall Street Journal that the White House will consider diverting that money to other health programs. Trump blamed the WHO for the virus’s spread, saying it could have been contained if the WHO was more skeptical of Beijing’s statements.

In mid-January, the WHO issued a statement saying preliminary investigations conducted by China showed there was no clear indication it was spreading person-to-person. By January 30th it was declared a “public health emergency of international concern.” António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, denounced the move, saying it was “not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus.” By passing money through various agencies, the United States pays for about 22% of WHO’s budget, according to the Wall Street Journal.

What the left is saying.

“Shock and indignation,” as The New York Times described it. The president is halting funds for the World Health Organization during the largest global health crisis of any of our lives. “Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds,” Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft who has spent much of his fortune on public health issues, said on Twitter. “Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever.”

The President of the American Medical Association, Patrice A. Harris, said it was a “dangerous step in the wrong direction.” Trump’s decision brought in criticism from once staunch allies, like Simon Coveney — Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs — who called it “indefensible.” Others are pointing out that the World Health Organization is responsible for how many countries across the globe were able to test their citizens en masse — tests the United States turned down, part of the crucial delay that hurt our response (note: that claim was rated a “mixture” of true and false by Snopes).

Some on the left are just calling it hypocrisy, noting the absurdity of Trump punishing WHO for the exact same thing he did. He said WHO is responsible for propping up China’s lies and promoting its coronavirus response, but he did the very same thing. “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency,” Trump tweeted in January. “It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!” Plenty of people on the left are “exasperated” by the WHO’s constant praise of China, Therese Raphael wrote in Bloomberg, but that’s what happens in member organizations. The U.S. should use its influence to back WHO and get more transparency out of China, not leave WHO leaders vulnerable and isolated in a political battle against a global superpower.

What the right is saying.

Finally. For weeks, Trump allies and conservatives on the right have been calling for the White House to punish the WHO. Many want to hang funding over WHO’s head in order to call for reform. Some, like former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, want WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to resign. In late January, Tedros was praising China for its transparency and parroting its talking points. WHO sent “experts” to Wuhan in February who came back hailing China as having successfully contained the virus. “Despite China’s refusal to share key information about the virus, WHO hasn’t said a discouraging word about China’s actions,” Rich Lowry wrote in Politico. “The WHO foolishly parroted the communist regime’s talking points, claiming human-to-human contact would not facilitate the spread of the virus and reporting China’s COVID-19 numbers as fact when it was obvious the regime was lying,” Kaylee McGhee said.

Former United Nations Ambassador and National Security Adviser John Bolton backed Trump’s decision. “Withholding U.S. funding from WHO is the correct response to its coronavirus failures and Chinese influence,” Bolton tweeted. “It should be a warning flare to the entire UN system that the US will not settle for poor performance.” In Bloomberg, conservative columnist Eli Lake took a more nuanced angle, saying the WHO has major failures but that doesn’t mean China should be kicked out of the WHO or we should stop contributing to it. “Most new infectious diseases begin somewhere in China,” he wrote. “It’s to America’s and the world’s benefit to keep China inside the organization. What’s required is a savvier kind of diplomacy.”

My take.

Sign me up for whatever Eli Lake is drinking. I’ve basically agreed with everything he’s written and said on the issue. There is no doubt the World Health Organization screwed up. The billions of dollars they’ve received over the last decade was spent specifically for this moment. This is the WHO Super Bowl, the call to action, the fire alarm, the final exam they’ve been studying for all year. In that sense, we — not just the U.S. but the global citizenry — rely on them. And it’s difficult to defend their early response. How does a group of WHO representatives leave Wuhan in February and come out thinking this is going to be okay? How could they be so wrong about the threat of human-to-human spread in January and why would they tell the world what they did if they weren’t 100% sure? By late January, plenty of non-WHO reporters, experts and leaders had discredited China’s claims about the seriousness of the outbreak, yet Tedros and the WHO parroted them to everyone. Trump is right that those failures cost lives and hurt us.


There are other ways to do this. If we are going to use our funding as leverage, we should be using it as leverage to understand what kind of influence China exerts over the U.N. We should be asking why WHO has been excluding Taiwan, a thorn in mainland China’s side, from its coronavirus response, especially when Taiwan is one of the few countries who nailed its response (“in large part because it didn’t believe anything China or the WHO said,” Richard Lowry pointed out).

Cutting funding is not the way to do this. And make no mistake: WHO’s failings do not absolve Trump of the mistakes he made, no matter how badly he tries to scapegoat them. Trump didn’t need the WHO to take decisive action against coronavirus in January — he had his own experts inside his own government telling him what was coming. He parroted China, praised Xi and downplayed the virus just like the worst actors inside the WHO, so you’re not going to convince me that they’re to blame while he gets off. Whatever happened in January, it’s clear what’s happening now: the WHO is providing funding, tests, and organization for responses across the globe, especially in countries that don’t have the well-funded governments we do. Pulling the rug out from under them will only exacerbate an already bad situation. We’d be far better off pushing for resignations or reform than handicapping the only global organization we’ve got on the front lines to fight this thing.


Yesterday, Barack Obama released a 12-minute video endorsing Joe Biden. He also spent a large chunk of the video praising Bernie Sanders and the movement he’s ushered in. Obama also acknowledged the party’s shift to the left, saying that he would be running on a more progressive campaign now than he did in 2008.

P.S. With Biden locked in as the nominee, Stacey Abrams made the case for herself in a long, in-depth article published in Elle Magazine.

You can watch Obama’s endorsement via YouTube below:

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Reader questions are a big part of Tangle. To ask a question, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in. Give it a try!

Q: I'm an "essential worker" (Grocery Clerk) in California. I'm finding myself growing super resentful of the people who are receiving an additional $600/week on unemployment for sitting at home, while I have to risk my life making less than $600/week. Is there any hope that essential workers will be financially compensated through the government? What incentive do I have to stay at work rather than get laid off and file for unemployment to make more money and stay safe?

- Nicole, California

Tangle: First off, I just want to say that I’m sympathetic to your resentment. I feel pretty overwhelmed by anxiety spending 30 minutes in the grocery store or even going to the park for a run, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to go to work every day in those spaces — especially when you’re not being supported financially the way you should. In many ways, the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the dearth of support for low-wage or hourly workers in America, and the way essential occupations have been dismissed or ignored for so long.

It’s not much consolation yet, but I’ve got some half-decent news to report in response to your question. Then I’ll give you the bad news.

The good news: you’re not the only one asking this. A lot of people are, and a lot of people are calling for necessary compensation. As Democrats and Republicans wrangle over “Phase 4” of the coronavirus response, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called for $25,000 in “hazard pay” for essential workers. This payment would apply to doctors, nurses and — yes — “grocery store clerks.” The bonus pay would amount to a $13-per-hour raise and would also go to professionals like truck drivers and janitors, who Democrats have repeatedly insisted deserve more pay for their crucial role in the health care response. Democrats also want to apply that pay retroactively, meaning it would go to anyone who has been out working since this all started.

“Doctors and nurses, medical personnel of all types are putting their lives on the line every single day to fight this disease and save others,” Schumer said. “And so are people not in the medical profession but in essential services: grocery store workers, truck drivers, drug store workers and pharmacists. For these Americans, working from home is not an option. Social distancing is not an option.”

The payment is being dubbed the “Heroes Fund” and would be capped at $25,000 for anyone making less than $200,000 a year, and capped at $5,000 for anyone making more.

Now, the bad news: this proposal is not like the check I received this morning. $25,000 isn’t going to magically pop up in your bank account. It’s going to be distributed to employers who are going to distribute it to workers. Those employers are going to be asked to track the payments and return unspent money to the feds. And all of this, of course, is pending Democrats getting something like this passed through a bitterly divided Congress and signed by a president who may be unwilling to throw more money at this whole mess. So far, there are no Republican cosponsors of the bill, which is a gloomy sign this is not going to gain any traction in the GOP-controlled Senate. On the other hand, Trump has actually seemed to embrace the idea.

“It’s something we’re discussing in terms of bonus or bonus pay,” he said in early April during a White House briefing. “They’re like warriors, they’re like soldiers,” he said of doctors, nurses and other health-care workers dealing with the pandemic.

The other not encouraging side of this is the simple timeline: when the bill was announced last week, it was going to be up for debate on April 20th, when Congress was supposed to return to work. But now Congress isn’t coming back until May 4th (at the earliest), so it’s unclear how such a provision could be passed or brought to life anytime in the near future.

To suss all this out: yes, a lot of people are thinking about how to compensate workers like you for continuing to show up. Democrats have proposed and pushed an idea to give $13-an-hour bonuses for up to $25,000 worth of work for everyone from doctors to grocery store cashiers to janitors. But the idea has not caught on in Republican circles, save the president, and we have no solid timeline on when Congress would or could take up another phase of response packages.

A story that matters.

Yesterday, a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) plan to “re-open America” leaked to the press. In it, FEMA and the CDC lay out what very well could be our near-term future. The 36-page guidance is expected to be released before May 1st, a date the White House hopes to start bringing people out of their homes in certain areas. Phase one involves releasing the plan on May 1st, then ramping up testing and personal protective equipment across the country. Staged re-openings begin shortly after, and the first priority will be K-12 schools, daycares and summer camps. Frequent handwashing and face coverings in groups will be advised. Restaurants will also be encouraged to open in low-risk areas shortly after. The areas where the virus hasn’t spread significantly will be up first for Phase One. There are also details of app-based case and contact tracking. In one section, it says models indicate a lifting of all mitigation results in a “large rebound curve” and mitigation efforts will be needed until vaccines or broad community immunity is achieved. It acknowledges that re-opening communities in this phased approach “will entail a significant risk of a resurgence of the virus.” You can read The Washington Post’s story here.


  • Six. The number of days top Chinese officials knew the country was likely facing an epidemic before alerting the rest of the world, according to the Associated Press.
  • 75%.The estimated percentage of college students who secured internships or post-graduate work that say those plans have been thrown into flux.
  • 77%. The percentage of viewers who say they find the White House’s daily coronavirus press briefings helpful, according to internal polling data President Trump tweeted out.
  • 8.7%. The drop in retail sales across the United States due to coronavirus, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • 3.46 million. The average number of viewers Fox News had in primetime last week, highest of any cable news network.
  • 1.94 million. The average number of viewers MNSBC had in primetime last week, second-highest of any cable news network.

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Have a nice day.

While we all struggle through isolation in quarantine, addicts in recovery are particularly at-risk. But Wes Hurt, the founder of CLEAN Cause, told me there are some great resources for anyone who needs them. Apps like Houseparty, Zoom and Google Hangouts are being used by anyone who needs a personal connection. Websites like www.247aaonline.com provide 24/7 meetings for folks who are interested. Hurt says he’s listening to recovery-based podcasts like The Addicted Mind, That Sober Guy Podcast or Recovery Elevator. He’s also doing his best to check on other people in recovery. “Oftentimes, in recovery, the service work component of just getting out of yourself is one of the most therapeutic and helpful practices that you can do,” Hurt said. “I think that really applies to humans in general. Serving others and getting out of yourself, there’s just something unique about it, nothing else comes close.”

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