Sickness isn’t the only effect of the coronavirus pandemic. Entire nations’ economies have been shut down, quarantining is common in many places, international travel restrictions are in place, and the bears have shoved aside the bulls on Wall Street. All of these facts have caused a cloud of malaise to settle over the world.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, our top health official dealing with the problem, said on Saturday that America hasn’t yet reached the peak of the epidemic here. He said Sunday that he hasn’t ruled out a national lockdown such as Italy’s.
There is every reason to question the government’s responses to the coronavirus epidemic. Recent screening of air passengers arriving in the U.S. was dangerously farcical. It consisted of commingling passengers from many aircrafts for many hours (obviously increasing the likelihood of infections), asking them questions, testing their body temperatures, and suggesting self-quarantining. People can be infected before showing symptoms such as a rise in temperature.
Nevertheless, there is just no reason to panic. Social distancing should take the place of panic and fear. We cigar smokers are adept at it. If many more Americans were cigar smokers, social distancing would become commonplace and slow the spread of the disease.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we have almost zero news coverage of anything else going on in the world. There’s a lot of SGO in the world that’s only partially — if at all — related to the coronavirus.
(For those just joining us, the acronym SGO stands for “S*** Goin’ On.” It was coined by my late, great friend and former SEAL Al Clark.)
Perhaps the most important non-news item is the threats by the Communist Chinese government resulting from President Trump’s correct labeling of the novel virus as the “Wuhan virus.” The fact that the COVID-19 virus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan is not debatable, but Xi Jinping’s regime denies it.
The messages from China are a cacophony of disinformation and threats. First, the Chinese government-controlled press reacted by denying that the virus originated in China. They contend, now, that the virus was created by the U.S. military as a bioweapon. Second, Xi’s regime has threatened to cut off U.S. supplies of the hundreds of drugs — including essential antibiotics — that are produced in China.
The Xi regime is worried. Governments, even totalitarian governments, have been toppled by crises such as the coronavirus pandemic. Chinese factories recorded their lowest production ever in February. China now contends — almost certainly falsely — that the virus has stopped spreading there. About 10 days ago, Xi ordered everyone back to work effective today.
China’s economy, like Iran’s, has flatlined.
Iran, like China, is lying about what is going on in its own coronavirus epidemic. From what we know, its health-care system is totally overwhelmed. Mass graves for the victims of the epidemic have reportedly been spotted by our reconnaissance satellites.
But the epidemic hasn’t stopped Iran’s aggression. An Iranian-ordered rocket attack in Iraq killed two U.S. troops and one British soldier. It was the second attack of that type since a U.S. drone blew Iran’s top terrorist, General Qassem Soleimani, into little bitty pieces.
President Trump has drawn a clear line in the sand. Iran cannot order the deaths of Americans without suffering a military response proportional to the attack. U.S. airstrikes against the Iranian-backed militia that conducted the most recent attack killed an unknown number of terrorists.
Iran has learned little from Trump’s retaliations. They will mount more and more attacks as the ayatollahs’ regime weakens.
Iran’s economy has been brought to its knees by Trump’s sanctions. The new oil war between Saudi Arabia and Russia may finish it off.
Russia has opposed OPEC limits on oil production because Vladimir Putin believes he can cause American oil fracking businesses to go belly up. When Russia quit OPEC in early March, the Saudis began an oil price war by flooding the oil supply market, making Russian oil less affordable and also attacking U.S. fracking businesses, which can make money when oil remains at or above $40/barrel.
Iran, one of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful enemies, is the main target of Saudi oil moves.
Yesterday, the Brent crude price of oil was about $35/barrel. Oil experts are saying that Iran will not be able to gain enough revenue from oil sales — its customers, such as China, buy oil from Iran despite U.S. sanctions — to support what remains of its economy. With Saudi oil flooding the market, Iran’s regime is suffering as much or more damage than the U.S. sanctions have imposed.
The coronavirus pandemic and the Saudi–Russian oil war has overshadowed even North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s efforts to gain attention. It must be difficult for him to imagine, but no one pays attention to his missile launches these days. His March 2 and March 9 launches were tests of missiles that could be launched against South Korea in the initial stage of a new Korean war. Kim’s malaise must have sunk to the level of clinical depression.
Three years into his presidency and five years into the energy crisis that threatened to bring our economy to a standstill, Jimmy Carter, in July 1979, delivered his infamous “malaise” speech (in which he never used the word malaise). He told America that it was suffering a crisis in confidence that sapped the national will.
What Carter refused to recognize was that the crisis in confidence was directed at him and his government. It had little or nothing to do with America’s strength or common sentiment. That was borne out five months later, when Iranian revolutionaries seized U.S. diplomats in Tehran and held them hostage for 444 days.
The hostages were released on the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. The Iranians didn’t want to risk what the old cowboy might do.
Trump is no Reagan. His Oval Office speech and subsequent statements have done little to quiet the stock markets. Trump’s optimism, laced with elements of pessimism, have not created the confidence in government action that is needed to lift the cloud.
But Trump is doing a lot of things right. For example, he has met with key pharmaceutical executives to urge them to increase production of coronavirus test kits and a vaccine for the diseases. U.S. medical scientists are racing to produce the vaccine, but their success is probably months away. Millions of test kits have already been produced, and millions more will be in coming weeks. Israel said its scientists are weeks away from creating a vaccine, but they haven’t achieved success yet.
As Dr. Fauci said, we haven’t reached the peak of coronavirus infections in the United States. A great many more people will catch the disease, and some will not survive it. It’s hard to have confidence in our government’s actions. But I’m betting that U.S. scientists and our medical industry will combine to beat this virus sooner rather than later.
People are going to feel insecure, worry about the spread of the disease, and question the adequacy of our government’s response. As a follow-up book to Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy said, Don’t Panic.