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What’s going on this Tuesday….Withdrawing from WHO would be a colossal mistake. It’s not crazy for Trump to take hydroxychloroquine. Anti-mask zealots are abusing disability laws. The economy’s barely doing better in reopened states. White House visitor logs shouldn’t be secret. They can see Everest from Kathmandu for the first time in a generation, and more.


Sure, the World Health Organization screwed up. But withdrawing from it would be a colossal mistake.

china xi jinping wha

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaking at the World Health Assembly’s virtual meeting on May 19, 2020.

AFP/South China Morning Post/YouTube


The president is lashing out again at WHO for its pandemic response. The United States, Trump says, will continue to withhold funds from WHO, and may even pull out of the organization. President Trump also rejected an invitation to address the World Health Assembly — the conference charting WHO’s pandemic response — and called the UN’s health organization a “puppet of China.” 

China’s President Xi Jinping gladly took the opportunity to give the speech Trump wouldn’t, announcing $2 billion in extra health aid to struggling countries, twice what the US was paying WHO. 

Does the health of the World Health Organization even matter? President Trump loathes all international organizations, which he sees impinging on American autonomy. He sees it as a convenient scapegoat for his own lousy coronavirus response. And he’s right that the WHO probably did make mistakes with the coronavirus, and probably was too credulous when China downplayed the disease. 

(Put it another way: The WHO screwed up — just like the US screwed up. The WHO responded slowly, just like the US responded slowly. The WHO believed China, just like President Trump believed China.)

But the showdown over WHO is important. In this essential new essay for Vox, Ezra Klein argues that the job of the American president is to reduce risk — to lower the possibility of an existential war, a recession, a pandemic, a climate catastrophe. But in Trump, we have a president who doesn’t think about risk management, and has thus taken actions that put us closer to avoidable disasters — everything from nuclear brinksmanship with North Korea and Iran to withdrawing from the Paris climate accords. 

The spat with WHO is a stellar, scary example of this phenomenon. WHO is a cumbersome bureaucracy that hasn’t shined during the pandemic. But it’s also the organization best equipped to deliver vaccines and medicine globally and track the outbreak. The stronger WHO is, the more likely it is that the world will control the virus sooner. So every effort we make to weaken WHO raises the risk of a longer pandemic, and more global economic instability.

That goal of harming WHO might make more sense if it helped the US achieve some other, more important strategic purpose. But if the goal was weakening China, it has done the opposite. Our absence has given China a bigger platform and more international prestige. And it has annoyed our allies, which put us in a strategically weaker position. 

We’re doing all this damage — damage to US prestige, damage to world health, damage to the international order — for the tiniest and pettiest of reasons, so that President Trump can distract from his own poor COVID-19 response, and look tough for his core supporters. 

Is that what a president should be doing during the biggest catastrophe of his lifetime? — DP

Relax, everyone — Trump’s decision to take hydroxychloroquine is reasonable

After weeks of going quiet on hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), the anti-malarial drug he used to tout as a “game-changer” for the coronavirus, President Trump startled everyone yesterday by announcing that he was taking it himself.

This announcement eclipsed the rest of the day’s news, which may be one reason Trump brought the topic up again.

The comments also triggered the same widespread condemnation the President received in the weeks he was talking up the drug in press conferences.

One aspect of this criticism is fair. Hydroxychloroquine can have dangerous side effects, and there’s still no real evidence that it works. The power of suggestion and leading-by-example, meanwhile, is real. The announcement by the president of the United States that he considers HCQ’s risks worth taking will likely prompt others to take it, too. And if taking the drug kills or hurts some people without helping them, the president will be partially responsible. 

So Trump should not be talking up HCQ, or even sharing his own personal medical choices, no matter how much his gut tells him that the drug’s benefits offset its risk.

But the President’s decision to take the drug himself is reasonable, as long as he’s taking it in safe doses with his doctor monitoring him for side effects.

Insider’s hydroxychloroquine expert Andy Dunn asked Dr. David Boulware whether there is any evidence that HCQ prevents or reduces the risk of coronavirus infection. Dr. Boulware is doing a study at the University of Minnesota to answer this question right now.

Here’s Dr. Boulware’s response: 

“There are no data that pre-exposure prophylaxis is effective to prevent coronavirus. It may be. It may not be. We do not know.”

In other words, an expert on infectious diseases believes that the question of whether HCQ prevents infection is a reasonable question that’s worth a study to answer. It might work. It might not work. We don’t yet know.

As we noted last month, when President Trump was touting HCQ as a game-changer, the possibility that it might work is persuasive logic in the face of a frightening disease that is otherwise untreatable. Long before the FDA approved HCQ for emergency use against coronavirus, in fact, many doctors in the US, France, South Korea, and elsewhere were prescribing it based on this logic.

In the ensuing month, several studies have come out suggesting that HCQ does not work. And several other studies have been stopped because the side-effects on some patients were deemed dangerous. So the risks are real.

But…

For some people — Trump apparently included — the possibility that HCQ might work seems enough to offset these risks. 

We all make individual risk assessments and judgments every day. Some of us view certain activities as “too risky” and view those who engage in them as reckless and stupid. Others believe that the benefits of the same activities outweigh their risks and choose to do them. 

That’s fine and fair. 

Based on what we know about the possible risk/reward trade off of taking hydroxychloroquine, Trump’s decision is within the realm of reasonable, even if you think it’s reckless and stupid. It might work. It might not work. When Dr. Boulware’s study concludes, we should know one way or the other. — HB

Anti-mask zealots are now abusing laws while endangering others

nypd face masks coronavirus

NYPD officer wearing masks attend a daily briefing in the Union Square subway station amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images


The evidence suggests that mask-wearing slows the spread of the coronavirus. Masks don’t protect the wearer so much as they protect people near the wearer — such as grocery store workers. So, wearing masks is a considerate and decent thing to do.

But, as in 1918, a certain type of American views the requirement that they wear masks as a gross and illegal violation of their personal rights and freedoms.

And now, these folks are contorting laws to dodge these requirements and keep endangering others. 

As Insider’s Bill Bostock reports, a document circulating online advises anti-maskers to claim that they have disabilities that make it hazardous for them to wear masks. Store workers who are asking them to wear masks will have to back down, the document explains, and the law will prevent store workers from asking about these disabilities.

It’s one thing to not want to wear a mask because they’re hot, annoying, and ugly, and, in areas with few coronavirus infections, not particularly necessary. But this isn’t that. This is lying and abusing laws to assert “rights” that don’t exist.

So, a question for anti-mask crusaders…

Most of you are good people, right? You would help an old person carry bags upstairs or cross a street. You would be considerate to those who are considerate to you. Yes?

So why not be considerate here? Stop viewing mask-wearing as a tool of oppressive government. Start viewing it as a kind and responsible personal choice, as the right thing to do. — HB

How’s the economy doing? Does “reopening” really matter?

US economic activity is gradually starting to recover, says Goldman Sach economist Blake Taylor. It’s recovering faster in states that began to “reopen” earlier, but only modestly. And it was recovering faster in most of these states anyway.

Taylor’s chart below shows mobility data — the amount of time that people spend at offices, restaurants, stores, and transit stations. The fat black line shows the average for the US overall. The individual colored lines show activity in four states — Georgia, Texas, Colorado, and Tennessee — that reopened earlier than others. The diamonds show the dates the states began to reopen.

Goldman Sachs state economic activity



Goldman Sachs


As you can see, activity bottomed in the first half of April and has been increasing everywhere since, even before the reopenings. And the reopenings have not yet significantly affected this trajectory. — HB

White House visitor logs shouldn’t be secret 

In another small reinforcement of executive power, a federal appeals court ruled that the Trump White House can keep visitor logs at the White House and Mar-a-Lago a secret. In April 2017, President Trump reversed an Obama policy of releasing visitor records, and open government advocates sued to reopen them. 

The court agreed with President Trump that sharing the records would deprive him of the “unfettered, candid counsel” a president needs. (A judge appointed by President Obama wrote the decision, by the way.) Trump’s visitor logs will now stay sealed until at least five years after he leaves office. 

This isn’t the most outrageous example of presidential privilege ever recorded. Every judge who’s looked at the case has taken the Trump side, suggesting the legal arguments for secrecy are strong. And presidents before Obama kept their visitor logs private. 

Yet we know from the Obama experience that opening the visitor logs doesn’t destroy effective government, and doesn’t make it impossible for the president to do the job. And transparency educates the public. If our president is meeting frequently with particular lobbyists or activists, and that’s shaping government policy, it’s valuable for us to know that. — DP

They can see Everest for the first time in a generation

FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2015, file photo, Mt. Everest is seen from the way to Kalapatthar in Nepal. Nepal mountaineering authorities have determined that an Indian couple faked a Mount Everest ascent earlier this year by altering photographs to show they were on the summit. A Nepalese national has shattered the previous mountaineering record for successfully climbing the world’s 14 highest peaks, completing the feat in 189 days. (AP Photo/Tashi Sherpa, File)

Mt. Everest is seen from the way to Kalapatthar in Nepal in 2015.

Associated Press


There are few bright sides to this global catastrophe, but one small one is that air in Asia is cleaner than it’s been in a generation. The sudden decline in travel and manufacturing has scrubbed the skies around Asian cities. The most glorious example comes from Nepal, where residents of Kathmandu could see Mt. Everest — more than 100 miles away — for the first time in decades. 

The pollution will return when we get back to work, but it’s possible that the interlude of clean air will change environmental policies. Beijing, which imposed massive pollution controls in advance of the 2008 Olympics and saw blue skies, followed up by launching a popular war on pollution that has slashed dangerous emissions. It wouldn’t be surprising if this reprieve from smog and particulates prompts public demand for pollution controls in cities across Asia. — DP

Bike sales are surging!

Bicycle sales are going nuts in the US during the pandemic. No single factor explains the spike. Cycling is a safe, socially distanced form of exercise. Cities have closed lots of streets to cars, making urban biking easier. And if anxiety about urban mass transportation continues, there may be a long-term shift toward bike commuting. — DP

 


The sister of Ahmaud Arbery’s accused killer posted pictures of Arbery’s dead body on Snapchat. She claims she did it because she’s a “huge fan of true-crime.” 

First jury trial by Zoom is taking place in Texas. It’s in an insurance case, and the jury’s verdict is non-binding.

 


Walmart is shutting down Jet.com four years after paying $3.3 billion for it. It had already folded Jet’s staff into Walmart’s operations.

Five cheap designs for post-COVID-19 offices that even cash-strapped companies can adopt. Some features: one-way traffic arrows and inexpensive dividers. 

Bergmeyer



Bergmeyer


 


She lived like Ina Garten for the day, and it was the best day of quarantine. Insider’s Anneta Konstantinides started the morning with a huge cosmopolitan and it got better from there.

This New York park came up with an elegant way to enforce social distancing. Insider has photos. 

Domino Park



(Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)



Professor Scott Galloway is doing his part to disrupt expensive MBA programs and make smart business-strategy education available to everyone. Insider executive Breton Fischetti took Galloway’s two-week online strategy course, which costs $500. Per Breton, it’s worth it.

 


Instead of relief checks, 4 million Americans will receive prepaid debit cards this week. They’re going to some people who don’t have bank information on file with the IRS.

Trump is refusing to unveil Obama’s White House portrait, breaking a 40-year tradition. Obama doesn’t want to go, either. 

The post-COVID-19 future of Bozeman, Montana. What it’s really like to live in a place so many people fantasize about.

 


Yesterday we wrote about the risks of catching coronavirus on an airplane. As it happens, the Washington Post also published a story on this, an opinion by Harvard professor Joseph Allen. Professor Allen is more sanguine than we were. So here’s a snippet from his article, Airplanes don’t make you sick. Really.

“…Billions of people travel by plane every year, yet there have only been a handful of documented disease outbreaks attributable to airplanes in the past 40 years. If planes made you sick, we would expect to see millions of people sick every year attributable to flights. We haven’t seen it because it’s just not happening.

Consider one study that examined a passenger with tuberculosis on an airplane. It found that the median risk of infection to the other 169 passengers on the airplane was between 1 in 10,000 to 1 in a million. Wearing a mask, as some airlines now require, reduced the incidence of infection another 10-fold…”

 


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