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Never let a crisis go to waste

OPINION

BY LEN CABRERA

The more we learn about coronavirus, the more obvious it becomes that politically- and/or financially-motivated people encouraged the hysteria to take advantage of a frightened public. As Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” We also learned that politicians are power-hungry and that a growing percentage of Americans are willing to surrender their freedoms.

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The original Imperial College models predicted an 81% infection rate and 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. without mitigation. Even isolating the infected would result in over 1 million deaths. The authors claimed we had to completely shut down the country for at least five months. Now, the same authors are predicting 100 times fewer deaths and claiming the peak of the outbreak could be as soon as two weeks away. The new results coincide with a study from the University of Washington School of Medicine that predicts peak deaths by mid-April and as few as 10 daily deaths by the first week of June. Even that study has massive uncertainty, with the estimate for total deaths falling between 38,000 and 162,000. 

What happened is that reality interfered with modeling fantasy. Stanford medical professors Bendavid and Bhattacharya wrote a Wall Street Journal column arguing that coronavirus is not as contagious or deadly as feared. They looked at quarantined passengers from Wuhan, China, and infections in Italy, Iceland, and the NBA to estimate the actual infection rate is between 0.9% and 2.2%. They also estimate the death rate could be as low as 0.01% of those infected, a tenth of the seasonal flu mortality rate (0.1%).

The big takeaway here is that we cannot rely solely on models to drive public policy. That includes climate change models, which also seem to always recommend that we have to destroy the economy to avoid impending doom. (Those models have been predicting doom 10 years away for over 40 years now.)

Always follow the money. The beneficiaries of the mass hysteria are politicians and the Wall Street elites. State and local politicians get to live like third-world dictators, wielding near-unquestioned power and privilege over a population that must beg permission to go about their daily lives. Washington politicians secured eternal incumbency and an ever-growing government via a $2 trillion porkulous bill that makes Obama’s $787 billion waste-of-money look like the JV stimulus. We should be very suspicious that this monstrosity was passed without time to read the bill, unanimously in the Senate and by voice vote in the House (with many vilifying the one person who demanded a roll call vote). Best case, we just increased the national debt by 10% for no reason (“If everybody’s thinking alike, somebody isn’t thinking.”). More likely, it’ll take months or years to figure out how much more “fundamental transformation” just took place.

Meanwhile, our IRAs and 401ks took a beating while Wall Street traders and billionaires took advantage of fire-sale prices. The most public (and disgusting) example is Bill Ackman, who encouraged the president to shut down everything. Now we know that he was shorting the market and made $2.6 billion when the market crashed. Several Senators also took advantage and sold stock when they learned about coronavirus’ impact on the economy.

Maybe the silver lining is that more people in Alachua County are watching what goes on at County Commission meetings and “Telephone Town Halls.” They can watch Alachua County’s dictator-in-chief Hutchinson (whose profile shows zero private-sector experience) make proclamations on which businesses he deems essential and allows to operate during his reign. They also get to see Mayor Poe recite talking points about apocalyptic conditions in New York City.

Those who take the time to read the data rather than listen to the demagogues will learn that there are only 60 cases in Alachua County, resulting in 7 hospitalizations and zero deaths as of the evening of March 27. Note that the March 26 Telephone Town Hall never answered the question of how many hospital beds we have in Alachua County. Instead, we got more hysteria-stoking rambling about “flattening the curve” and potentially overwhelming the infrastructure. They didn’t give a number because it would drive home how little our health care system is actually impacted by COVID-19. (Quick search: North Florida Regional has 432 beds, UF-Shands has 996 beds, Malcom Randall VA hospital has 240 beds.) With a population of 269,000, we’re talking about a 0.02% infection rate (for known cases) and 0.3% of our hospital beds used for COVID-19 patients. Rather than talking about easing restrictions, Hutchinson talked today about triggers for moving to a full lockdown. For more context on just how little is happening, look at the Florida Department of Health weekly Flu Review graph below: 12 straight weeks with between 275 and 300 deaths per week in Florida from pneumonia and influenza, pretty much average for flu season. There have been 46 deaths so far from COVID-19 in the state of Florida.

Unfortunately, some of the Facebook comments on today’s County meeting show that too many people are willing to surrender their freedoms. They may not remember that many Cubans welcomed Castro’s takeover in 1959. Back then, Cuba was one of the top countries in the hemisphere in terms of per capita income, literacy, life expectancy, and per capita ownership of cars, telephones, and televisions. It’s not that they wanted a communist dictator. In 1953, Castro claimed a political philosophy of “representative democracy and social justice in a well-planned economy.” (Today he’d probably say he’s a democratic socialist.) Incidentally, one of the first things Cubans had to stand in line for was toilet paper (that’s a first-hand account from my mother).

More recently, Hugo Chavez took advantage of “widespread discontent with Venezuela’s established political parties” to win the 1998 presidential election with 56% of the vote. He gained an 80% approval rating by promising to end corruption and increase spending on social programs to redistribute the oil wealth. Less than a year later, he drafted a new constitution to consolidate all three branches of government and assumed power to “implement certain laws by decree.” At least he found it necessary to change the constitution–our politicians are just ignoring ours.

We’ve been a blessed country for a couple hundred years, protected by oceans and (mostly) friendly nations on our borders. That gave us a false sense of complacency and the belief that the problems faced by other nations with failed regimes or military coups could never happen here. There’s a reason we’re told to fear the wolf in sheep’s clothing. You should always question those who claim you must do something “for your own good.” 

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” – Ronald Reagan

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