Charting a course for hubris

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On the roster: Charting a course for hubris - Trump heads to swing state Arizona for virus pitch - Fauci to testify before Senate but not House - Biden looks to tout 2009 recovery - Have you asked the chicken if it wants a lollipop?

The appropriate human response in the presence of the awesome power of nature is humility.

Stand gasping for air at the foot of a thundering waterfall or peer to the edge of the horizon on the deep blue Pacific, and you are made small to almost an atomic level.

And yet, in our current grappling with nature at its most devastating, many Americans – certainly those in the political class – seem anything but humbled.

Despite our wondrous medical technology and stupefying wealth, this virus fills mass graves and crushes the breath from the lungs of its victims rich and poor across the continent. A threat that we had not even known of six months ago is killing thousands of people each day, has devastated our economy and changed the way every American lives.

For all of our strength, nature finds our weaknesses and brings us to our knees. The story of our species is one of rising again and again, but before we rise, comes the recognition of the awesome power of this planet.

How remarkable, then, to hear the certitude of leaders who have already been badly mistaken about the nature of the threat and how to deal with it. The same people who two months ago made presumptions that have been proved wildly, tragically wrong now act as if the same science and technology that failed them before is again infallible.

You can’t blame folks for being wrong about something fast-moving, terrible and new. There will be time to examine who failed in their duties, especially those officials tasked with protecting us and equipping us for natural disasters like these. But as far as recriminations for not seeing the storm approaching, we can all take a share of the blame.

But if you accept blame for not foreseeing the current crisis, you must also temper your claims to foreknowledge of what happens next. So, politicians instead look to place blame on others so that they can continue to seek power and political advantage unabated.

The backdrop for week eight of the national coronavirus emergency is the reality that the number of deaths is going to increase as the country starts reopening. These painful choices are not the kind of things that politicians like to talk about. They’re more like Miller Lite ads: Tastes great and less filling. More spending and lower taxes. Cheap goods and high tariffs. And on and on…

The debate centers on, fittingly for Washington, charts and graphs.

Some charts say that the number of expected deaths is going to roughly double. These are the charts President Trump prefers. Losing 135,000 people in roughly five months sounds terrible, but these charts also show that the number of fatalities will drop sharply over the summer and be down to double digits by the fall.

Other charts say that the rate of infection is poised for a massive increase and that a second wave of the virus will be even more devastating than the first. These are the charts that Democratic leaders seem to prefer. Such dire warnings coincide with their criticisms of the tentative re-opening of the economy already underway.

There are lots and lots of other charts that project everything from apocalyptic devastation and the end of America to, apparently, the “rocking” summer foreseen by the president’s son in law.

We heard an interview one of the scientists who helped make one of the most popular charts talking about what would happen next. He noted that “the model says” infections and deaths will do such and so on this date and that date.

But the model – the equation that produces the chart – doesn’t say anything at all. The chart doesn’t see the future any more than a calculator knows how to solve math problems. If you put in wrong or incomplete numbers, it’s not the fault of the calculator for getting it wrong.

This reminds us of when some big, musty steamer trunk of a bill gets plopped down in Congress and the poor folks at the Congressional Budget Office get to ciphering. The joke is that Congress itself gets to set the mathematical rules and the parameters for how to guess at what market responses will be.

Then the ciphers come back with a very concrete-sounding number about how much it will cost, what it will do to the economy, how many people will engage in which behaviors, etc. And it is, of course, poppycock. They cipher just for the sake of avoiding old rules that say what were once considered modern, highly scientific methods of economics (har, har) must be used and then the results are summarily ignored.

The charts make them feel better, though. The charts and the models and the pseudo-science turn them from leaders making decisions on a prudential basis – leaders who will be held accountable for their choices – into mere infographic interpreters.

Our politicians like to say that they will “follow the science,” but science does not lead us. It can guide our decisions, sometimes wrongly and sometimes rightly, sometimes clearly and sometimes opaquely. It can provide data from which we can make guesses about the correct courses of action, but it is not a lab-coated Pythia telling us the future.

Accordingly, a little humility from our leaders should be our due.

“There can be no doubt that the continuance of the Union under an efficient government would put it in our power, at a period not very distant, to create a navy which, if it could not vie with those of the great maritime powers, would at least be of respectable weight if thrown into the scale of either of two contending parties.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 11

New Yorker: “Half a century ago, before ‘Sesame Street,’ and long before the age of quarantine, kids under the age of six spent a crazy amount of time indoors, watching television, a bleary-eyed average of fifty-four hours a week. In 1965, the year the Johnson Administration founded Head Start, Lloyd Morrisett, a vice-president of the Carnegie Corporation with a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Yale, got up one Sunday morning, at about six-thirty, a half hour before the networks began their day’s programming, to find his three-year-old daughter, Sarah, lying on the living-room floor in her pink footie pajamas, watching the test pattern. … Not much later, Morrisett fell into a dinner-party conversation with Joan Ganz Cooney, a public-affairs producer at New York’s Channel 13. … At that dinner party, Cooney and Morrisett got to talking about whether public-minded television might be able to educate young kids. … Educational television for preschoolers seemed to solve two problems at once: the scarcity of preschools and the abundance of televisions.”

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Average approval: 45 percent
Average disapproval: 49.8 percent
Net Score: -4.8 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 1.6 points
[Average includes: PRRI: 43% approve - 54% disapprove; IBD: 44% approve - 44% disapprove; Gallup: 49% approve - 47% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk University: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; NBC News/WSJ: 46% approve - 51% disapprove.]  

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Arizona Republic: “President Donald Trump [touched] down in Phoenix late Tuesday morning, ending his confinement at the White House… Trump’s trip to Phoenix will highlight Honeywell International, a North Carolina-based aerospace defense contractor that is producing millions of N95 respirator masks for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support health, safety and emergency workers. … Also at Honeywell, Trump is set to participate in a roundtable discussion about how to support Native Americans during the crisis. … No campaign events are scheduled, his Arizona team confirmed. The president’s quick trip to Arizona was organized after his aides reportedly presented him with internal polling that showed him lagging behind presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in key battleground states. … Ronna McDaniel … said the trip is intended to demonstrate the president’s efforts to highlight good work done by American companies and to reiterate the need to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States.”

So long KAG, welcome back MAGA - WashEx: “President Trump is bringing back ‘Make America Great Again’ as a campaign rallying cry as the coronavirus upends plans to run for reelection on the strength of a roaring economy. The Trump campaign is investing ‘mid-seven figures’ to run a new television advertisement on broadcast and cable television networks across the country. The ad touts video clips and Trump’s words to promote his management of the pandemic and qualifications for directing the recovery of the economy. The one-minute spot never mentions ‘Keep America Great,’ the reelection slogan Trump unveiled during his campaign kickoff rally last June in Orlando. … The advertisement first aired on Sunday, six months before Election Day, amid mounting deaths and job losses caused by the coronavirus.”

Big government Republics find their moment - NYT: “Questions over whether the government should play a more active role in protecting Americans from global shocks like the coronavirus pandemic have exposed a widening divide in the Republican Party over whether the small-government, free-market brand of conservatism at the heart of its agenda — and a top priority of its biggest donors — is out of step with the times. The debate traces some of the same ideological fault lines that run through the party over President Trump’s economic and trade policies, which excite many of the voters who are drawn to his nationalist appeals but alarm the party’s more traditional, pro-business wing. In one of the most ambitious proposals from this group of new nationalists who are challenging a generation of Republican orthodoxy, Congress would mandate that certain products deemed essential to the national interest … are manufactured in the United States.”

Poll finds massive resistance to reopening - WaPo: “Americans clearly oppose the reopening of restaurants, retail stores and other businesses, even as governors begin to lift restrictions that have kept the economy locked down in an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. The opposition expressed by sizable majorities of Americans reflects other cautions and concerns revealed in the survey, including continuing fears among most people that they could become infected by the coronavirus, as well as a belief that the worst of the medical crisis is not yet over. … Many Americans have been making trips to grocery stores and 56 percent say they are comfortable doing so. But 67 percent say they would be uncomfortable shopping at a retail clothing store, and 78 percent would be uncomfortable eating at a sit-down restaurant. People in states with looser restrictions report similar levels of discomfort as those in states with stricter rules.”

Trump vows daily briefings will return - NY Post: “President Trump said Monday that ‘everybody’ enjoyed his White House coronavirus briefings — including himself — and vowed they will be back, just not daily. In an Oval Office interview with The Post during which he predicted a strong economic rebound from the coronavirus crisis by the end of the year, and offered his opinions on presumptive Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s best pick for a running mate and the sex assault allegations facing the former vice president, Trump said the briefings were must-see TV. And he credited his frequent clashes with reporters for making engaging content. … Trump, who ended the daily briefings last week, said there would continue to be one or two a week as he pivots from crisis management to reopening the economy. He said his new White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, would be holding court at some of those sessions.”

NPR: “Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will join Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and other administration representatives in testifying before a Senate committee on May 12. The announcement comes as members of President Trump's coronavirus task force are being asked to limit their appearances on Capitol Hill despite ongoing calls from lawmakers for more oversight into the administration's coronavirus response. Last week, the Trump administration blocked Fauci from appearing before a House committee on the subject of spending on coronavirus testing. President Trump told reporters Tuesday that he doesn't want the officials appearing before House Democrats. ‘The House is a setup,’ Trump said. ‘The House is a bunch of Trump haters.’ White House officials gave a less adversarial explanation when justifying the decision to limit task force testimony in a memo to top congressional aides.”

Dems ‘think big’ on next bailout - Politico: “Top House Democrats on Monday signaled they are forging ahead with the next sweeping coronavirus relief package, aiming to increase the pressure on GOP leaders who have rejected Democratic priorities in previous aid bills. On a private call with members Monday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her deputies sketched the outline of a trillion-dollar-plus package that would deliver aid to state and local governments — some on the brink of public service cuts — while shoring up safety-net programs for the nation’s most vulnerable. ‘We have to think big,’ Pelosi (D-Calif.) told her members several times on the call. Pelosi is pushing committee chairs to finalize their portions by close of business Monday with hopes of pulling together a final package by week’s end, according to multiple Democratic lawmakers and aides. The bill could reach the floor for a vote as soon as next week, although several top Democrats are skeptical of that timeline given the scope of the legislation and uncertainty over when House members will return to Washington.”

McCarthy disses McConnell on refusing preferential test treatment - Politico: “House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Monday he disagreed with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to decline the Trump administration’s offer to provide Congress with rapid-results coronavirus testing. ‘I do believe it would be critical to have the testing here because there will be a flare-up. Remember how many people from other parts of the country come to this location,’ McCarthy (R-Calif.) told POLITICO Playbook authors Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer in a virtual interview. But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has castigated McConnell for bringing back the Senate without a more clear focus on the coronavirus, said he agreed with the decision. The New Yorker also got in a jab at McConnell, who in his statement with Pelosi said those tests would be better suited for frontline workers.”

NYT: “During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama had assured Mr. Biden that he would be consulted on every major decision. … So, during a private lunch in February 2009, Mr. Biden slid a memo across the table to Mr. Obama, outlining a role to erase those doubts: quarterbacking the implementation of the $787 billion economic stimulus that had been rammed through Congress a few days earlier in the depths of recession. … As it turned out, Mr. Biden’s work on the rollout, implementation, oversight and selling of the 2009 stimulus — officially the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — was the most sustained, and perhaps the most significant, assignment of his time in office. Eleven years later, in an election season defined by pandemic, economic collapse and a far-larger relief package, Mr. Biden’s campaign is hoping to leverage his stewardship of the 2009 stimulus as a point of contrast with President Trump…”

Big money donors flock to Biden - Forbes: “As the coronavirus pandemic took hold of America, a record number of billionaires backed Joe Biden, putting him ahead of Donald Trump in terms of support from America’s wealthiest. Thirty-two billionaires and their spouses backed Biden in March versus 14 who gave to President Trump that same month. Altogether 94 billionaires have now donated to Biden versus 90 who have given to Trump since he started fundraising in 2017. Biden has the momentum. The former vice president received contributions from 27 billionaires or their spouses for the first time in March; contributions from 13 of them came after Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency on March 13, according to the Federal Election Commission filings. Some of Biden’s new billionaire backers had previously supported other Democratic candidates.”

Hillary headlining top-dollar fundraiser for Biden - Fox News: “Last month, Hillary Clinton endorsed Joe Biden. This month, she’s helping raise money for the former vice president and presumptive Democratic 2020 nominee. Clinton – the former first lady, senator from New York, secretary of state during former President Obama’s first term, and the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nominee – is scheduled to appear at a virtual fundraiser for Biden on May 19. She will be joined by Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Tom Perez. Word of the event was first reported by Politico, and confirmed by Fox News. According to an invitation, donors taking part in the fundraiser can contribute at multiple levels ranging from $2,800 up to $100,000. A similar virtual fundraiser for the Biden Victory Fund -- headlined by California Gov. Gavin Newsom and 2008 Obama campaign manager David Plouffe -- is being held this week.”

Warren: Biden's response to Tara Reade claims 'credible and convincing' - Fox News: “Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., doubled down on her support for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Monday despite allegations that he sexually assaulted a staffer when he was a senator. ‘I appreciate the reports of what Miss [Tara] Reade said. I saw the interview with Vice President Biden,’ Warren said, referring to Biden's appearances on MSNBC… ‘I appreciate that the vice president took a lot of questions, tough questions,’ Warren said on Monday, adding that Biden has faced the allegations ‘directly and respectfully.’ ‘I support the vice president, I support his campaign, and I'm proud to endorse him for president,’ she said. A former opponent on the campaign trail, Warren may be on the short list of Biden's picks for vice president, although he is unlikely to announce his running mate until July.” 

Biden launches ‘Sincerely, Joe Biden’ letter series - The Hill: “Former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign launched a new digital series featuring the presumptive Democratic nominee's response to letters received from supporters. The series, called ‘Sincerely, Joe Biden,’ will also include supporters' letters to the former vice president. ‘I received your message and appreciate you sharing your story during this anxious time in our history,’ Biden wrote to one supporter in a letter released first to CNN. ‘Courageous, hardworking Americans motivate me every day to work to ensure that families and workers are protected as we see our way through the worst public health crisis our country has faced in generations.’ The letter series appears to be an effort to show Biden's compassionate and empathetic side, which he is often lauded for by supporters.”

Biden campaign announces union contract with staffers - Fox News: “In a first for a major party's presumptive presidential nominee, Joe Biden's campaign on Monday announced a collective bargaining agreement with its staffers in a deal with Teamsters Local 238, an Iowa-based chapter of the powerful labor union. The contract sets up six-day work weeks for Biden campaign field organizers, establishes a $15 per hour minimum wage and mandates that workers are paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a given week. Additionally, field organizers will get medical and vision coverage financed entirely by the campaign. According to a joint statement released by the Biden campaign and Teamsters Local 238, the terms of the agreement will increase field organizers' wages by about $1,900 on an annual basis.”

Fox News: “Nicolás Maduro, the embattled leader of Venezuela, said Monday that authorities in Caracas captured 13 ‘terrorists’ – including two U.S. citizens – in a failed invasion attempt that he said was no doubt orchestrated by the Trump administration. In a nationwide broadcast appearance on state television, Maduro held up two U.S. passports that he said had been recovered during the attempted raid. He read off the names and birthdays of the two Americans. ‘They were playing Rambo,’ he said, according to The Guardian. ‘They were playing hero.’ The two U.S. citizens were identified as Luke Denman and Airan Berry, both former U.S. special forces soldiers. Video emerged that purported to show Venezuelan authorities with their captives lined up at a seaside marina. Maduro said the U.S. government is ‘fully and completely involved in this defeated raid,’ The Associated Press reported. He praised citizens from a fishing community for cornering one of the groups he described as ‘professional American mercenaries.’”

Senior FEMA leader announces departure amid coronavirus efforts - WSJ

“We can’t telecommute to combat. Our troops need to be ready to go.” – Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, talking to the WSJ about how the Army is proceeding with training and preparations for sending troops overseas but using precautions like masks and social distancing.

“I have a question regarding the recent talk about a ‘bailout’ for the states whose budgets have been blown by the pandemic. McConnell is saying he does not intend to consider a bailout to state and local governments in the Senate, a position I happen to agree with. However, I also happen to agree with the viewpoint shared in this letter previously on many occasions, that we’ve done a disservice to our republic by allowing for the popular election of Senators instead of allowing them to be chosen by the state legislatures as the founders intended.  Is this not a good example of why that move was a mistake? While I do not align with this particular initiative on the part of (primarily) the Democratic Party, is it not fair to say that having Senators accountable to their states, instead of the populace, might have changed the dynamic a bit, and maybe facilitated both parts of the legislative branch being able to work together to compromise between their respective ‘stakeholders?’ I continue to enjoy the report daily, and all the good work you both do to bring a ray of sunshine into my afternoon.” – Matthew Caster, Dayton, Texas

[Ed. note: Holy smokes, Mr. Caster! I hadn’t even thought of that one, but you’re exactly right. The design for our Congress wasn’t to have the same constituency represented in two different ways, but rather to have two different constituencies. We have done great violence to the idea of strong states functioning ably inside a strong centralized government. If we had the Senate of the founders’ design you can be sure that the response would have been MUCH more federalistic, with resources going to states for disbursement rather than Washington scattershot or outsourcing the work to national banks. Senators would have insisted. Thanks for pointing out!]

“Your Bleachers answer in which you explained Potomac Fever was one of the funniest things I have read in a long time. As a long-ago junior Senate staffer, I found your description of staff duties hilarious, and I was a staffer before cell phones, let alone smart phones. Then I got to your last sentence (regarding fundraising) and almost fell out of my chair. I got three fundraising calls from politicians or their campaigns just today. Keep up the great work.” – Steve Arthur, Woodland Park, Colo.

[Ed. note: I’m glad it rang true, Mr. Arthur. I think of Congress as the most elaborate live action role playing game in America. It’s like a Renaissance fair but where the goal isn’t to give guys an excuse to wear stretchy pants while eating turkey legs but rather to protect the fragile egos of institutionalized members.]

“You’ve often opined on the shortcomings of state primary elections. Perhaps you could outline – here on or your podcast with Dana – how parties chose candidates in the ‘good, old days’ of true nominating conventions. Or how they might work in future.” – Chris Sales, Fort Collins, Colo.

[Ed. note: Let's say you wanted to be the next governor of Colorado. You presumably would have come to this conclusion after years of civic involvement, political and apolitical, in your neighborhood, your city and Larimer County. And if you think you’re ready for a run for statewide office, presumably your business, civic and personal activities and relationships have made you a man of good reputation not just there in the Front Range but in all four corners of Colorado. Your effort would start by recruiting supporters in your party from all 64 counties. You need these folks to turn up first at precinct-level meetings that choose delegates to the county convention. Those delegates won’t just be voting on your nomination. They’ll be considering candidates for every post at each respective level. At the county level, they nominate candidates for commissioner etc. but also choose the delegates to go on to the congressional district level. There, conventions would pick House candidates and set their final slates of delegates for the state convention. Now, you might or might not be a delegate from the 2nd Congressional District, but if you have a chance at the nomination, we can assume that your home district is well salted with your obvious supporters. When everyone gets together, the nose counting gets intense. But there will still be lots of delegates who are uncommitted. They were chosen because of a local issue or their interest is in another race. Now you and your team have to get busy convincing them that you’re the guy. They have to convince their fellow party members that not only will you win in the fall against the other side but that you’re reliable, responsive to their concerns and a solid citizen. The delegates, maybe a few hundred folks, then get to voting. It might go to you on the first ballot since you are the beloved, accomplished son of the Centennial State or you might have to grind it out over multiple ballots, cutting side deals, promising cabinet posts and policy tweaks to move blocs of delegates. Either way, it is followed by much hurrahing and toasting with ardent beverages before everyone heads home to get ready for the main event, the general election. Note here that the government was never involved. Taxpayers were never inconvenienced. Note also that everyone who voted for you not only would have met you, but would have probably known you, by reputation at least, for years and years. It’s true that strong parties can produce corruption when they become closed off and gangs rule, but with safeguards in place against graft, patronage, etc. I daresay it would be an improvement against the demagogic orgies of negative partisanship and ideological extremism that these absurd primaries have become. And congratulations, Mr. Governor-elect!]

“I am tired of the incessant outrage expressed at Shake Shack and other large companies who received loans through the original Payroll Protection Program. If Congress and/or Treasury had intended the program to apply only to smaller companies, surely they could have written that into the legislation.  If fault is to be assigned, it should go to those who wrote and administered the bill. I remain unclear whether the drafters were simply incompetent or actually intended the program to be open to large but then didn’t have the courage to says so in the face of public criticism.” – Matt Lincoln, Portola Valley, Calif.

[Ed. note: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever trust a politician not to take political advantage. Assume it will happen and be prepared to be pleasantly surprised when they don’t. Banks did not asked to be the agents of the federal government in disbursing relief funds. Bankers warned that the rules were too vague and the system too poorly designed. C’mon, said the bipartisan response, we really need you and nobody will hold the mistakes against you. The same went for larger employers. When it became obvious that many workers would miss out on the intended benefits of the payroll subsidies because they were employees of franchised companies, Congress changed the bill to allow hotel and restaurant chains to participate. Are you sure, the larger employers asked. Absolutely, came the reply. It’s right there in black and white in the letter of the law. *snort* By the way, what do you think would have happened if those banks and employers would have refused? What if banks had said they would distribute no subsidies or hotel chains said they would rather fire their workers than be in the program? It doesn’t matter which direction the pitchforks are pointed, a good politician knows how to stay on the right side of the tines.]

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AP: “Police are searching for an ‘aggressive chicken’ accused of engaging in fowl play at an Louisiana bank. The Walker Police Department responded to a complaint about the brazen animal Friday, the agency said in a social media post over the weekend. Witnesses told police the chicken had been spotted at the bank multiple times last week, approaching patrons at the ATM, chasing customers and even attempting to climb into cars in the drive-thru, according to the department’s post. Officials said officers responded to the bank within a few minutes of the call, but found the pesky poultry had already escaped. The suspect remains on the loose and police advised residents to avoid confronting the animal, and instead call for help.”

“A standardized math test was given to 13-year-olds in six countries last year. … Besides being shown triangles and equations, the kids were shown the statement ‘I am good at mathematics.’ Koreans came last in this category. Only 23% answered yes. Americans were No. 1, with an impressive 68% in agreement.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in Time magazine on Feb. 5, 1990.

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.