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The Morning Dispatch: The Latest on Coronavirus
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The Morning Dispatch: The Latest on Coronavirus

Plus, a closer look at Bernie the frontrunner.

Happy Tuesday! Wow. We were hoping for a positive response to our note yesterday on additional membership options. We were not expecting the absolute outpouring of support and well wishes we received from you all. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for taking a chance on us and becoming a part of this community. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was convicted Monday of sexual assault and rape, although he was acquitted of the charges of predatory sexual assault that would have potentially landed him a life sentence.

  • Markets plunged on Monday amid fears of the long-term impacts of the coronavirus outbreak, which has slowed China’s economy to a crawl and sparked worries of market doldrums around the world.

  • The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a Trump administration rule stripping Title X federal funds from clinics that provide abortions.

  • The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a Philadelphia case that may determine whether faith-based adoption agencies can be excluded from public social services if they refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

  • Yet another Democratic debate takes place tonight in South Carolina. Mike Bloomberg will be there—as will Tom Steyer, who was absent in Nevada.

  • Vanessa Bryant, widow of the late NBA star Kobe Bryant, has filed a wrongful death suit over the helicopter crash that killed him and their daughter Gianna.

Coronavirus Gets the White House’s Attention

“Stock Market starting to look very good to me!” President Trump tweeted 42 minutes after markets closed on the worst day of trading in two years.

“The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” he added, just hours before his administration formally asked Congress for $1.8 billion in emergency funding to combat the pathogen’s spread.

The two are not unrelated. The Dow dropped just over 3.5 percent on Monday as the reality of COVID-19—the virus that causes flu-like symptoms—began to fully settle in. There are now more than 80,000 confirmed cases of the virus worldwide—about 78,000 of them in China—and 2,700 people have died after contracting it.

Representatives of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) team on the ground in China said on Monday the country’s “bold” (read: authoritative) measures—limiting people’s movement, closing schools, shutting down public transportation—“changed the course of what was a rapidly escalating and continues to be a deadly epidemic,” potentially forestalling hundreds of thousands of new infections. But even as the rate of contamination in China finally begins to slow, new outbreaks are cropping up elsewhere, including Italy, Iran, and South Korea.

The WHO was not yet ready to declare coronavirus a pandemic—a series of epidemics spanning multiple continents—but its director-general said we must do “everything we can to prepare for a potential [one].”

The United States has confirmed 53 cases of the virus—nearly all of which involve people who were traveling in East Asia—but some experts think that figure could be undercounting the infected. “Since most people with the virus suffer only a mild illness,” former National Security Council member Luciana Borio and former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “dozens and perhaps even hundreds of cases may be circulating undetected.”

Hence, the Trump administration’s push for additional funding yesterday. 

“To this point, no agency has been inhibited in response efforts due to resources or authorities. However, much is still unknown about this virus and the disease it causes,” Russell Vought, acting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director, wrote to leaders on the Hill. “The administration believes additional federal resources are necessary to take steps to prepare for a potential worsening of the situation in the United States.”

“Today, the Administration is transmitting to Congress a $2.5 billion supplemental funding plan to accelerate vaccine development, support preparedness and response activities and to procure much needed equipment and supplies,” OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel said in a statement. “We are also freeing up existing resources and allowing for greater flexibilities for response activities.”

Just half of that $2.5 billion would represent new funding; the administration is hoping to shift around some funding that was previously approved to combat ebola, but remains unused as of now.

The proposal didn’t sit well with congressional Democrats, who argued against the reallocation of funds and said the administration’s request didn’t go far enough.

“The Trump administration’s request for emergency funding is woefully insufficient to protect Americans from the deadly coronavirus outbreak,” House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey said in a statement. “Despite urgent warnings from Congress and the public health community, the Trump administration took weeks to request these emergency funds. It is profoundly disturbing that their answer now is to raid money Congress has designated for other critical public health priorities. Worse still, their overall request still falls short of what is needed for an effective, comprehensive government-wide response.”

Expect a fight in the coming days over how best to procure these funds, which would be put toward vaccine development, quarantine costs, and equipment like face masks.

What Does Bernie Sanders Stand For?

In the wake of the Nevada caucuses, it’s beginning to dawn on the Bernie-skeptical wing of the Democratic party that his message is the one that’s resonating with their primary voters. So, we’re now embarking on a new stage of the primary: where candidates shift subtly from arguing in favor of themselves to arguing that Sanders can’t beat Trump.

The basic line from (comparatively) centrist Dems, not to mention gloating Republicans, is simple: Bernie is a socialist, and a socialist can’t win an Electoral College majority in America. In general, capitalism remains far more popular than socialism in the U.S.: 60 percent of Americans view capitalism favorably, compared to only 39 percent for socialism, according to the latest Gallup poll. To nominate Sanders, many Democrats fear, would play right into the hands of President Trump, whose bid for re-election hinges on trumpeting the prosperity that has taken place under his watch and asking whether America really wants to elect a president who intends to burn the system down. Trump was going to run against “socialism” regardless of whom the Democrats nominated and nominating an actual socialist makes his job easier.

That argument isn’t entirely borne out by the polling. Sanders’s democratic socialist stances aren’t a secret to anybody—yet he frequently fares as well as (or better than) the rest of the pack in head-to-head polling matchups with Trump, both in swing states and nationwide.

Why does Sanders poll better than the ideology he espouses? Part of it is doubtless that some voters who recoil from the word “socialism” see in Sanders (rightly or wrongly) a milder, more moderated set of beliefs than what the term connotes in their minds—more Scandinavian than Soviet, you might say. And part, as Ezra Klein argued in a compelling Vox piece, is owed to what he describes as the difference between socialist economics and the socialist ethic.

Klein quotes the prominent young socialist writer Nathan Robinson’s definition of the socialist ethic as “anger at capitalism over its systematic destructiveness and injustice,” versus the more meaty concept of socialist economics, which “rearranges the way goods are produced and distributed.” The point is that many Sanders supporters have joined his coalition not because they are doctrinaire socialists, but because they feel he is sincerely angry about the same things they are angry about—income inequality, college and medical debt, climate change—and is thus the likeliest candidate to actually do something about those things.

Would the unifying force of Sanders’s socialist ethic be sufficient to hold his coalition together in a general election where Sanders will repeatedly be forced to reckon with his own past and present commitment to a more—erm—robust kind of socialism?

As Sanders has pulled ahead and the lids have come off the other campaigns’ oppo jars, we’ve already started to get a taste of what this will look like. The senator who came of age as a left-wing radical during the Cold War has come under fire for the eye-popping paper trail of dubious diplomatic stances he took then, which mostly amounted to sticking up for repressive governments the United States was locked in conflict with at the time.

Up on the site today, Jeryl Bier has a good look at one of these instances: Sanders’s public praise for Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista regime in Nicaragua in 1985. Other examples that decade included his famous 1988 honeymoon in the Soviet Union—where he enthused that we should “take the strength of both systems”—and his praise for the Cuban revolution in 1986.

Sanders might have been expected to make an ideological version of the case that George W. Bush made to explain away his youthful indiscretions: When I was young and stupid, I was young and stupid. That’s not happening because Sanders believes the same things today he believed back then.

There are early indications that Sanders might struggle in an environment where he is repeatedly called to task for this history. Just this week, Sanders outraged Florida’s Cuban-American community with a light-stepping 60 Minutes interview in which he said he opposed the “authoritarian nature” of the Castros but insisted that “it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad.”

In pro-communist spin reminiscent of the bad late-night arguments of our lefty college buddies, Sanders looked past the brutality of the early Castro years — the summary executions, the internment of gays and lesbians, the brutal beatings of his political opponents — to offer words of praise.

“When Fidel Castro came to office, you know what he did?” Sanders asked. “He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”

[Ed: “Came to office?”]

Sanders’s advocates protest that it would be the height of hypocrisy for President Trump to savage Sanders for trying to sit the fence on some of the last century’s authoritarian regimes. After all, they point out, one of the hallmarks of Trump’s first term has been his willingness to cozy up to today’s authoritarians, from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un to Turkey’s Recep Erdogan to the Phillipines’s Rodrigo Duterte. And not only to cozy up to them, but even to praise the repressive actions themselves—as when he congratulated Duterte on “the unbelievable job” he was doing on his country’s drug problem (via extrajudicial death squads dispatched against petty criminals and drug dealers), or when he joked with Vladimir Putin that the Russians “don’t have this problem” of an adversarial media (thanks to the state’s habit of stamping out opposing voices).

These are fair critiques. But the fact remains that it’s Sanders, not Trump, who needs to put together a new winning coalition this year—and it remains to be seen whether people newly turned on by Bernie’s rhetoric about Big Pharma or global warming will remain turned on through a months-long relitigation of his longtime embrace of America’s enemies. You can take it to the bank that the Trump campaign won’t let them forget it.

Worth Your Time

  • Two years after a deluge of allegations against him helped spark the #MeToo movement, Harvey Weinstein was convicted of sexual assault and rape. It’s worth looking back now on the single piece of reporting that, more than any other, brought down the Weinstein empire: Ronan Farrow’s harrowing New Yorker feature that published the stories of 13 of Weinstein’s accusers. Give it a read again and marvel at how much the world has changed since then.

  • This piece is one of the wilder things we’ve linked to in this space, but it’s every inch as worth your time as anything else we’ve shared. It’s former NBA star Ben Gordon’s story, told in his own words, of how retirement from the league—and the loss of structure and pressure and direction it had given him—almost cost him his life, and how therapy helped him find his way back to himself. It’s a completely enthralling read, coming to you from The Players’ Tribune. (The piece contains some NSFW language.)

  • Katherine Johnson was an unassuming titan behind the Apollo program—one of NASA’s brain trust of math whizzes who crunched the numbers that made America’s improbable moonshot possible. Her life was immortalized in the 2017 movie Hidden Figures. Johnson died on Monday, age 101; read her obituary in the New York Times here. “They asked Katherine Johnson for the moon, and she gave it to them,” Margalit Fox begins.

  • The Staples Center in Los Angeles played home to a public memorial for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna yesterday. It was a star-studded event—as you might expect—but Michael Jordan shone the brightest. His eulogy is well worth your time.

Presented Without Comment: Coronavirus Edition

Presented Without Comment: 🧐 Edition

https://twitter.com/declanpgarvey/status/1232121836290396160

Something Fun

Veterans of the internet will remember Robert Kelly, a professor of international relations who achieved notoriety in 2017 after his children and wife burst into his study during a live TV spot.

Well, Kelly is back on the airwaves and—not to take anything away from his insights on South Korea—people seem to be training their focus on that door behind him.

Toeing the Company Line

  • Enough about the race for the White House. What’s going on in the Senate? Sarah examines whether the Democrats could take control, pointing to races in North Carolina, Georgia, and Kansas that feature vulnerable Republicans.

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph of Chinese medical personnel by Wang Quanchao/Xinhua via Getty Images.

The Dispatch Staff's Headshot

The Dispatch Staff