“An unnecessary federal bailout of state and local governments has given an undeserved mulligan to some money-losing government-owned golf courses.
That’s despite the fact that some of those same courses reported an increase in customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to reports submitted to the Treasury Department and reviewed by Reason, Union County, New Jersey, has committed $929,000 of its federal COVID funds to a pair of county-owned golf courses: Galloping Hill and Ash Brook. That spending will help the courses cover “costs associated with increased use” as a result of “an increase in play at county golf courses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
That’s the sort of problem that many private businesses would probably love to have. Either as the result of government-imposed lockdowns or changes in consumer behavior during the pandemic, recreational spending on restaurants, bars, concert venues, and theaters plummeted. If that made golfing—an outdoor, socially distanced activity—more popular, why should taxpayers now have to bail out a business that got more successful?”
“In a report published earlier this year, the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website) found that 155 local governments lost a combined $61 million by running golf courses during their 2020 fiscal years. One of the biggest losers was Thousand Oaks, California, which lost a staggering $800,023 on a single city-owned golf course in 2020.
Naturally, that course got a piece of the federal bailout too. The Treasury Department’s tracker of American Rescue Plan spending shows that Thousand Oaks plans to spend more than $14 million on “revenue replacement” on a variety of items, including “city-owned theatres and golf course.” It’s not clear from the data provided to the Treasury Department how much of that money will be spent on the golf course (nor is it clear why the city owns multiple theaters, but that’s for another day).”
“”Congress really put taxpayers in the rough,” says Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a fiscally conservative nonprofit. He says Congress should have placed stricter limits on how the $350 billion state and local government bailout could be used.
Those funds were included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress in March 2021, and were ostensibly meant to cover pandemic-related public health costs or to offset lost tax revenue due to the economic consequences of COVID-19. Even before the law was passed, there were questions about whether such a large bailout of state and local tax coffers was necessary or prudent.
It seems to have been neither, as most governments did not experience a significant revenue shortfall due to the pandemic. Now flush with extra cash from Washington and few restrictions on how to use it, some state and local governments are blowing the money on pet projects like government-owned golf courses and bonuses for government workers”
“Other obviously vital public health costs being covered by the American Rescue Plan’s local government bailout fund include the planting of new trees “including ash, spruce, maple, pine, [and] cherry” and the installation of a new irrigation system at a government-owned golf course in Elmira, New York, according to Treasury Department data. That’ll burn through $1.2 million of federal funds.
In Lexington, Kentucky, a government-owned course that brags about containing “the longest par-5” hole in the state, will be getting a new irrigation system with the help of more than $1.3 million from the federal bailout. The course is already “a local favorite and an attraction to visitors,” the county wrote in its project summary submitted to the Treasury Department, but the desired upgrades haven’t been made due to a lack of funding from the local government.”
“When Great Britain returned control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, a condition of the transfer was that Beijing would allow the territory to maintain its own government until 2047. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has never liked this agreement, and the COVID-19 pandemic provided the excuse to all but erase the “one country, two systems” distinction.
The CCP began its authoritarian assimilation of Hong Kong in 2019, when Beijing encouraged CCP loyalists in Hong Kong’s legislature to pass a law allowing extradition of residents to mainland China. That proposal sparked pro-democracy protests and a police crackdown in Hong Kong, which captured the world’s attention.
In June 2020, Beijing responded to the pro-democracy movement by requiring Hong Kong to implement a national security law that “introduc[ed] ambiguously defined crimes such as separatism and collusion that can be used to stifle protest,” as The New York Times put it. But the pandemic provided Beijing with an even bigger opportunity to suppress dissent.
Citing public health concerns, Hong Kong postponed its Legislative Council (LegCo) elections for a year. In the interim, Beijing changed LegCo election rules to reduce the number of directly elected seats and to require that candidates pledge their loyalty to mainland China.
With only Beijing-aligned “patriots” on the ballot, CCP loyalists swept the 2021 LegCo elections. Many leading opposition politicians went into exile, while others were jailed. Voter turnout was a paltry 30 percent—the lowest since the handover in 1997. By comparison, a record 71 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2019 district council elections. The high turnout was reportedly driven by opposition to the extradition treaty, and pro-democracy candidates won 85 percent of the available seats.
The pandemic also has facilitated suppression of pro-democracy protests. Every June since 1990, residents of Hong Kong had marched and held a vigil in memory of the Tiananmen Square dead. But in 2020, Hong Kong announced that it would extend social distancing restrictions until June 5, the day after the massacre’s anniversary.
Hong Kong’s COVID-19 rules banned public meetings of more than eight people, with a potential penalty of six months in jail. As a result, only a small vigil was held. Organizers nevertheless were arrested and sentenced to up to 14 months in jail. The sentencing judge remarked that they had “belittled a genuine public health crisis.””
“More than a million Americans have died of Covid-19, and the World Health Organization estimated this Thursday that the global death toll is around 15 million — a horrifying, and largely unnecessary, tragedy.
But for all that the world has lost in the last few years, the history of infectious disease has a grim message: It could have been even worse. That appalling death toll resulted even though the coronavirus kills only about 0.7 percent of the people it infects. Imagine instead that it killed 30 percent — and that it would take centuries, instead of months, to develop a vaccine against it. And imagine that instead of being deadliest in the elderly, it was deadliest for young children.
“Before modern vaccine development, humans had to get creative in slowing the spread of infectious disease. It was known that people who’d survived smallpox didn’t get sick again. In China, as early as the 15th century, healthy people deliberately breathed smallpox scabs through their noses and contracted a milder version of the disease. Between 0.5 percent and 2 percent died from such self-inoculation, but this represented a significant improvement on the 30 percent mortality rate of the disease itself.
In England, in 1796, doctor Edward Jenner demonstrated that contracting cowpox — a related but much milder virus — conferred immunity against smallpox, and shortly after that, immunization efforts began in earnest across Europe. By 1813, the US Congress passed legislation to ensure the availability of a smallpox vaccine that reduced smallpox outbreaks in the country throughout the 1800s.”
“By 1900, smallpox was no longer quite as much of a scourge in the world’s richest countries. In the 1800s, about 1 in 13 deaths in London were caused by smallpox; by 1900, smallpox caused only about 1 percent of deaths. Several countries in Northern Europe had also declared the disease eradicated. Over the next few decades, more of Europe, and then the US and Canada, joined them.
But as long as smallpox ravaged other parts of the globe, continual vaccination was necessary to make sure it wasn’t reintroduced, and millions of people continued to die of it. Data is spotty — this is before there was any international authority on infectious disease statistics worldwide — but it is estimated that 10 to 15 million people caught smallpox annually, with 5 million dying of it, during the first half of the 20th century.
It was not until the 1950s that a truly global eradication effort began to appear within reach, thanks to new postwar international institutions. The World Health Organization (WHO), founded in 1948, led the charge and provided a framework for countries that were not always on friendly terms to collaborate on global health efforts.”
“A 1947 outbreak in New York City, traced back to a traveler from Mexico, resulted in a frantic effort to vaccinate 6 million people in four weeks. Europe, Henderson says, repeatedly saw the virus reintroduced by travelers from Asia, with 23 distinct importations (different occasions of someone bringing smallpox into the country) in five years.
As we face down Covid-19, with effective vaccinations finally in hand, we’re encountering the same challenge that the world faced with smallpox in the 1950s: It doesn’t matter if a vaccine exists unless there also exists the international will and creativity to get it to all the people who need it, many of whom will be reluctant and skeptical.”
“features of smallpox made it easier to eradicate than many other diseases. For one thing, it didn’t have animal reservoirs; that is, unlike diseases like Ebola, smallpox doesn’t live in animal populations that can reintroduce the disease in humans. That meant that once it was destroyed in humans, it would be gone forever. And, once a person has survived it, they are immune for life. Only one vaccine is needed for immunity in almost all cases.
Additionally, it largely doesn’t have asymptomatic transmission and has a fairly long incubation period of about a week. That made it possible for public health officials to stay on top of the disease with a strategy of “ring vaccination” — whenever a case was reported, vaccinating every single person who may have come into contact with the affected person, and ideally everyone in the community could keep the disease at bay.”
“Humanity’s triumph over smallpox should stand out as one of our proudest moments. It called on scientists and researchers from around the world, including collaborations between rival countries in the middle of the Cold War.
Unfortunately, we’ve never replicated that success against another virus that affects humans. With some, such as polio, we’re drawing close. Wild polio has been eradicated in Africa and remains only in conflict-torn regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Ring vaccination,” as practiced in the smallpox battle, has been successfully used in public health efforts against other diseases, most recently with the new Ebola vaccine, used against outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But in other cases, like HIV and Covid-19, we’ve let new diseases grow to pandemic proportions. And while those diseases have had devastating effects, it’s worth keeping in mind that they could have been even worse. Some viruses with the potential to escape laboratories or make the jump from animals to humans are as deadly and transmissible as smallpox, and Covid-19 has made it clear that we’re not prepared to handle them.”
“The devastation of Covid-19 has hopefully made us aware of the work public health experts and epidemiologists do, the crucial role of worldwide coordination and disease surveillance programs (which are still underfunded), and the horrors that diseases can wreak when we can’t control them.
We have to do better. The history of the fight against smallpox proves that we’re capable of it.”
“Over 1 million Americans have now died from Covid-19. It isn’t a random group of people: one preprint paper found that working-class Americans were five times more likely to die from Covid-19 than college-educated Americans. Working-class Hispanic men had a mortality rate 27 times higher than white college-educated women. Another study analyzed Covid-19 mortality rates in over 219 million American adults and found that if racial and ethnic minorities between 25 to 64 years old had faced the same mortality rate as college-educated white Americans, there would have been 89 percent fewer deaths.”
“The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday released its estimate of global mortality from the Covid-19 pandemic: 14.9 million deaths, from January 1, 2020, to December 31, 2021.
That tally is the number of “excess deaths” compared to a baseline of expected deaths in a world without Covid-19. This number includes not just the people who died from the virus, but also those who passed away in the ensuing chaos as hospitals filled up and workplaces shut down.
It’s a stunning snapshot of the sweeping devastation the Covid-19 pandemic unleashed around the world, showing that the virus wreaked havoc far beyond the infections it caused. The WHO attributed about 5.4 million deaths to the virus itself.”
“After the historic one-year enrollment drop of 2.5 percent in the 2020-21 school year, public K-12 attendance has stubbornly refused to bounce back. Two new studies further indicate that the biggest two-year declines correlate strongly with the most restrictionist school-opening policies, particularly in Democratic-controlled big cities.”
“”The effects of the sharp, recent enrollment declines may be long-lived,” Stanford University Education Professor Thomas Dee told The 74 Million. “The fiscal consequences will remain for some while.”
K-12 spending amounts to around 20 percent of all state and local government spending. If the customer base for this freely offered product continues to reject it in favor of more expensive options, not only will education budgets (which are usually tied to enrollment numbers) get slashed, the political enthusiasm for paying the price tag via taxation will likely wither.
America was a global outlier in the amount of closures and restrictions imposed on public schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in particular played a key institutional role in mixing messages and producing senseless over-caution. Remote learning didn’t just repel students, it consigned the ones who remained to staggering amounts of learning loss. We do not yet understand the full extent of the hit, but what public education decision makers did to public schools the past two years will likely go down as one of the most flagrant and impactful acts of institutional self-harm in the 21st century.”
“Late last year, the owner of snowmobile rental business Canyon Adventures filed a complaint with the code compliance office of Gallatin County, Montana, against the nearby Corral Bar and Steakhouse. It alleged the bar’s own snowmobile rental business wasn’t allowed by the property’s zoning.
The county’s code compliance office agreed that the snowmobile business wasn’t allowed by the zoning code. But rather than slapping the Corral Bar owners with a fine or shutting them down, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported yesterday that the county closed the case without taking any enforcement action.
The reason? According to a sweeping law passed by the Montana Legislature in April 2021 aimed at prohibiting mask mandates, the county can’t compel “a private business to deny a customer of the private business access to the premises or access to goods or services.” It also can’t adopt ordinances that deny customers the same access to those goods and services.
Importantly, H.B. 257 also stops governments from applying fines, revoking licenses, filing criminal charges, or bringing “any other retributive action” against business owners for not complying with a law forcing them to reject customers.
The language of the new state law is broad. So broad that, in a number of instances, Gallatin County officials have interpreted it to mean they can’t penalize businesses for violating the county’s zoning code.
“Each individual circumstance is going to be judged on its own,” says Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert to Reason.
He declined to speculate on the full extent of H.B. 257. But, Lambert says, when there’s a county law or regulation that falls within the scope of H.B. 257 and has the effect of forcing a private business to refuse a customer, then the county can’t take “retributive action” against the business for servicing that customer anyway.
In those cases, the county is forbidden from using any “remedies that might be available under the ordinance,” he says. “[H.B. 257] is all-encompassing, and it was meant to be all-encompassing.”
In the Corral Bar case, county officials reasoned that they couldn’t punish the bar for running an unpermitted snowmobile rental because that would involve compelling it to deny customers a service in violation of H.B. 257.
The Chronicle reports that Gallatin County officials have declined to bring enforcement actions in at least eight zoning cases because of H.B. 257’s restrictions, including ones involving illegal Airbnbs and a summer camp that opened up in a residential zone.”
“Kids aren’t getting caught up on routine shots they missed during the pandemic, and many vaccination proponents are pointing to Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy as a big reason why.
Public health experts, pediatricians, school nurses, immunization advocates and state officials in 10 states told POLITICO they are worried that an increasing number of families are projecting their attitudes toward the Covid-19 vaccine onto shots for measles, chickenpox, meningitis and other diseases.”