Saturday, April 04, 2020


UPDATE: Well, this is embarrassing. In the post below, I identify the author of a New York Times op-ed critical of the Trump administration's coronavirus efforts as James A. Baker III, former chief of staff to Presidents Ronald Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The author is actually James E. Baker, a former deputy legal adviser to the National Security Council and a former chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. I regret the error. Here's the original post, which I've left intact, errors and all:

James Baker, the 89-year-old former chief of staff to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, has written a New York Times op-ed that you might be tempted to skip because it's been given the gee-whizzy, star-spangled headline "It’s High Time We Fought This Virus the American Way." Don't pass it up. It's a brutal takedown of the Trump administration's failures -- much more forceful than anything we've heard from Barack Obama, for instance -- and a reminder of just how much the U.S. government can do if it chooses to.
The president has “invoked” the Defense Production Act, but the government has not used the full authority of the act. There is a difference between invoking a law and using it, just as there is a difference between talk and action....

The D.P.A.’s authorities go beyond prioritizing contracts and manufacturing supplies. Its allocation authority addresses the problem of states’ competing against one another for scarce resources based on market mechanisms. The federal government can allocate equipment and supplies based on actual need and best public-health practices. The D.P.A.’s industry assessment authority can be used to measure production and distribution capacity, remove blind spots, plan efficiently and recreate a supply chain at home. The federal government can determine now which entities could produce vaccines while it plans for their ethical allocation. The government can then use the D.P.A.’s Title III incentive authorities to issue loans, offer antitrust protection and guarantee purchases, creating a secure market for masks, tests and vaccines....

State and local authorities are imploring the federal government to use the authority it has to secure our medical supply chain. So far, the administration appears to have responded like a parent doling out candy to a child: one piece at a time. This is an “all hands on deck” moment, not merely to flatten the curve but to leap ahead of the curve. America was once the arsenal of democracy; the D.P.A. can help make us the arsenal of public health.
Baker goes into all this in great detail, citing legal justifications for the use of this authority and rebutting the charge that making full use of the act would result in unconstitutional "takings" of private property (just compensation must be provided).

The piece is a reminder that, even under Republican presidents, the federal government used to be full of people who understood government's powers and knew how to use them, which meant that, for all their faults, they could use these powers for good in a crisis. That's what most Americans want right now, and we don't have it. Instead we have a president who scoffs at complex thinking and planning, and who believes that anything done the way previous presidents have done it must be bad.

Of course, it's the party of Baker and Trump that got us into this mess. Republicans have been telling us for decades that government is always the problem, never the solution. The first president Baker served is well known for saying, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

Republican politicians sold that line to the public, even though they didn't operate according to that philosophy. I blame them for the fact that the anti-government nonsense they spewed -- which spread to talk radio and Fox News -- is now taken seriously by a large percentage of the electorate, as well as by many (most?) of the people who now run the government.

Nevertheless, I'd rather have any of our recent presidents in charge now, including the Republicans. They'd be doing a much better job.

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