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Donald Trump's New COVID Adviser On Pandemic Response; Will Vaccine Nationalism Slow Pandemic's End?; Should The U.S. Take An America-First Approach To The Vaccine?; The Most Scurrilous Thing That Can Be Said About A President; How Were This Year's Debate Moderators Chosen?; Will Debates Occur Too Late To Affect Election?; Essay Calling New York City "Completely Dead" Spurs Fight With Seinfeld. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired September 05, 2020 - 09:00   ET




MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: A new coronavirus death model often cited by health experts makes a sobering prediction. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts over 410,000 U.S. coronavirus deaths by January 1, reaching an unprecedented 3,000 a day by December.

The IHME says that without government intervention, the death toll could increase to 620,000 and before you scoff at those numbers, I should point out that the IHME predictions have been accurate to-date and, if anything, a bit conservative.

This warning comes as the President a new and go-to COVID adviser. Dr. Scott Atlas is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution with a background in free market healthcare and economic policy. His views are ruffling feathers, prompting headlines such as these, "A New Coronavirus Adviser Roils the White House," or, "Trump's COVID Adviser Gets a Washington Welcome."

Dr. Atlas joins me now to respond. Dr. Atlas, thanks so much for being here. Let's start with this. Your critics say you literally wrote the book on MRIs, that you're a brilliant neuroradiologist, but not qualified to play a leadership role in epidemiology regarding a pandemic. So what makes you qualified to advise the President in this regard?

SCOTT ATLAS, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS ADVISOR: Well, thanks for having me. You know, I'm not hired to be an epidemiologist. There's a lot of things I'm not, but what I am is someone who's worked in healthcare policy for about 15 plus years with many of the best people in the world in healthcare policy and before that, I had a 25-year career or actually overlapping with that in very high level medical science in integrating a lot of complicated subspecialty information from high level subspecialists in infectious disease, pediatrics, oncology, cardiovascular medicine. And so, you know, I'm hired or asked to help here because I have a background in both medical science and healthcare policy. It has nothing to do with what I'm not. It's about what I am.

SMERCONISH: So are there parameters? Do you find yourself saying to the President, it's beyond my area of expertise?

ATLAS: I don't talk about stuff that I don't know, OK? I'm not one of these people that pretends to know things. What I do is I try to know as much as I can. I am a very attention-to-detail person. I look at the published papers with a critical eye. I've reviewed papers for 30 years in some of the best medical journals. I don't just take a bottom-line conclusion. I actually read the paper. I look at the methods. If the methods are garbage, the paper shouldn't have been published. I don't care what the conclusion is.

And, you know, that's that a kind of health degree of skepticism and attention to detail that is really important these days. We have a lot of people with a lot of fancy CVs and degrees who, frankly, are very superficial thinkers and that's very harmful to the discussion.

SMERCONISH: There's a portrayal of you butting heads behind closed doors with Doctors Fauci and Birx and Redfield. Is that true?

ATLAS: Well, the answer is no, it's not true, but it's also -- I can't imagine a universe where it's appropriate to talk in public about what happens in private meetings. I think if anybody did that, they ought to be ashamed of themselves, but the fact is there's no butting of heads here.

You know, we have a lot of people who know a lot and I can tell you that I'm very impressed with the people on the task force. These are people that are working their tails off, really selflessly trying to help the President, but trying to help the country more than that and that's what I'm doing here.

And I just think these kinds of stories are really -- you know, I mean, this is Washington D.C.. I'm not from here. I had no idea that news media was more interested in stirring up trouble than actually reporting fact, but that's the world we're living in now.

SMERCONISH: Well, I want to make sure I'm giving you opportunity to respond to several of the things that have been written about ...

ATLAS: Sure.

SMERCONISH: ... you recently. For example, "The Washington Post," and you and I talked about this on my radio

show this week, they say they've got five people at a senior level on the record claiming that you have been arguing for herd immunity within the White House. You told me that's a lie. Do you want to underscore that here?

ATLAS: Sure. It's not just a lie, it's an overt lie. It's a disgusting lie and it's a harmful statement to make. I have never advised the President to push a herd immunity strategy. I have never told the task force that I advocated a herd immunity strategy.


I've never told anyone that I've advocated a herd immunity strategy in the White House or here and this is just -- I don't know who they're talking to. I don't believe that, that somebody actually said that, but if they did, then that, too, is a lie. I mean, you know, the news really -- that's harmful because what that did, that story, is it's the ultimate straw man, by the way. You put up a false statement and then everybody else assumes it's true and they start talking about that.

It's very harmful because it makes the public afraid. You know, there is no strategy, zero, of just opening up the barn doors recklessly and just letting people get the infection and seeing who survives. That's really outrageous and a heinous example of bad journalism.

SMERCONISH: But you know -- you know, Dr. Atlas, where this comes from. In April I think it was, you wrote a piece for "The Hill." Presumably that's how you ended up on the President's radar screen. The piece, when I last looked, had been shared more than a million times and in it -- you correct me if I'm wrong -- but you seem to embrace the concept of herd immunity.

ATLAS: OK. What I've done is explained that herd immunity or population immunity exists when enough people in a population get an infection, have their own established immunity and break the chains of connectivity of contagiousness to people, particularly the vulnerable. That's just a known fact. That's an immunological concept that if you don't understand that, you really shouldn't be advising anyone or talking on TV pretending to know if you don't understand that.

That is exactly why widespread vaccines are administered, to induce immunity in enough people to stop the spread of a contagious disease. That is a basic concept and we can see that that actually happens in certain settings and I've said it before and I'll say it again that does anyone stop and think why New York City didn't have a bunch of cases come back? After the city was devastated, one of the -- one of the most devastated places in the world with this infection, and then you have thousands of people protesting, yet there's no more cases. I wonder why and the -- and the ...

SMERCONISH: OK. But now ...

ATLAS: ... answer to why is likely -- it's likely reflected in population immunity and we can see the seropositive -- the seroprevalence studies of their antibodies and we double that generally or there's more than that for T-cells and you end up having a population that probably has population immunity, but that is not the same thing ...


ATLAS: ... as advocating that policy.

SMERCONISH: All right. I'm a layperson. I'm not a physician. I don't even play one on television, but now it sounds like you are making a case for herd immunity. We don't have a vaccine, so we haven't gotten immunity that way. You refer to it as population immunity. I'll ask it this way. Have you expressed to the President what you've just explained here?

ATLAS: I am not advocating a population immunity strategy at all. What I am advocating -- and let me be very clear about this -- is having the social -- the distancing, social mitigation factors that the CDC has outlined. I am advocating ramping up as much as possible, protecting people who have a danger from this, the vulnerable, and we are doing that. We are doubling down on that in the White House and with policies outlined by CMS to do that.

I am advocating opening things, but opening safely with mitigation, with any kind of personal protective equipment that schools or businesses need, with point-of-care testing for everywhere that needs it. I am advocating a safe strategy because we must understand something -- prolonging a lockdown is enormously harmful. This is what a public ...

SMERCONISH: Let me ask it ...

ATLAS: ... policyperson does. He doesn't just sit there ...

SMERCONISH: Let me ask it ...

ATLAS: ... and say stop COVID-19 at all costs.

SMERCONISH: Let me ask it this way. Did Sweden have the right approach?

ATLAS: I think Sweden did some things right and some things wrong and I've said that before, including to you on the radio interview. You know, Sweden killed a lot of people by being negligent in their nursing homes, for instance. Seventy percent of deaths, the last I read, in Stockholm were in nursing homes. I mean, that's really outrageous. These are people who have a confined living situation. We ought to be able to stop that.

They did some things right. They didn't lock down totally, but there's other things that they did -- they didn't do right, but, you know ...

SMERCONISH: Is the ...

ATLAS: ... to compare them to other countries or to say that I'm advocating what they did, I'm not advocating what they did. I'm advocating what the President is doing.

SMERCONISH: The modeling that I began the segment with, do you accept it?

ATLAS: No. The IHME model and all these other models have been so wrong so many times. Just think about the common sense here. Why do we have to keep changing a model every three to five days? Every week?

[09:10:02] The model -- we're looking at the data here. Models were interesting in the beginning when we didn't know what was happening and of course they were proven to be wildly wrong and I'd refer you to a review of all the models by John Ioannidis ...

SMERCONISH: But this one ...

ATLAS: ... who's a Stanford epidemiologist, world renowned ...

SMERCONISH: I've interviewed him. I've interviewed him and respect him, but in this case, Dr. Atlas, I can put it on the screen, they seem to have been prescient. Put it up, Catherine.

ATLAS: Prescient?

SMERCONISH: If anything, they've been -- they've been conservative. I don't know if you can see the screen right now, but I'm going through what they said in March and May, in June, in July. I get your point, why do they need to continue to change the model, but when they've changed it, they seem to be spot on. You get the final word. Go ahead.

ATLAS: You know, OK. I think the model is ridiculous in many ways. When you look at what they're doing, they're claiming they can predict, if you wear masks and if you don't, how many deaths will occur. That is absurd. I mean, some of these people -- and, you know, we are in a country that is off the rail. Somehow we're focusing on hypothetical models. We have massive evidence here. Let's look at what we know instead of what we project in this theoretical model.

I think that's really -- you know, it's really off the rails when the taxi cab driver starts knowing what a projection model is or starts telling me about hydroxychloroquine. This is sort of like ...

SMERCONISH: OK. When I -- when I -- when I say ...

ATLAS: ... the tulip bulb mania mania. This is really off the rails.

SMERCONISH: When I say this is my final question, this time I mean it because they're shouting in my ear. You reference masks.


SMERCONISH: I just heard Dr. Fauci say, hey, it's a holiday weekend, wear a mask. I'm paraphrasing. You agree with that?

ATLAS: I agree with the idea that you should wear a mask when you cannot socially distance, particularly when you're near people who are high risk. That's what the President's policy is. I do not believe in a mandated or everyone wear a mask at all times. You're wearing a mask in the middle of a desert all alone, you're wearing a mask when you're driving your car all alone, you're wearing a mask when you're out in the park jogging all alone. I don't think that's either scientific ...

SMERCONISH: How about on the South -- how about on the South Lawn of the White House?

ATLAS: ... nor is it rationale.

SMERCONISH: How about surrounded by 1,500 on the South Lawn ...

ATLAS: Outside or -- outside or ...

SMERCONISH: Outside on the South Lawn of the White House, say, a week ago Thursday?

ATLAS: Listen, here's what I think. I think the President's policy is completely right and I also think some of these conjectures and statements trying to get people to say things like some kind of a gotcha statement, it serves no purpose. Let's focus on what we're doing, what we know and let's not try to instill more and more fear into people. I just think that it's just -- I don't know what the role of journalism is here anymore. What's the point of this?

SMERCONISH: All right. I hope -- I hope that ...

ATLAS: I just don't get it. I'm sorry.

SMERCONISH: Listen, I hope -- I hope that's not a reference -- I hope it's not a reference to me because I'm all about the data. I want to follow the numbers and I want to follow the science.


SMERCONISH: I appreciate you being here.

ATLAS: Good. OK. Thanks for having me.

SMERCONISH: Thank you. What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program. "Scott Atlas? Are you kidding me? Hard pass. I may never watch again." Really, Keith? Really? You're objecting to the fact that I would give platform to a man who's now a senior adviser to the President? Why? Because you want to be told only things that you already agree with?

Listen, we just concluded a remarkable week in this campaign, a week where we saw the respective response of each of the campaigns from now I think until the finish line in terms of the President doubling down on his base while former Vice President Biden made an effort, I think, to go more toward middle of-the-road voters with all those things that he said against violence in cities that have been the locations of urban unrest. I mean, there it is crystallized for you, but my mantra is to hear from everybody and both sides, offer you my opinion and never tell you what you should do.

Up ahead, the U.S. is among those opting out of the World Health Organization's multinational effort to develop and distribute a coronavirus vaccine. Should the U.S. take an America-first approach and vaccinate our own before offering it up to the rest of the world? Who should have priority -- countries or people? That brings me to this week's survey question. Go to and tell me, do you agree with the WHO? Here's their quote, "The first priority must be to vaccinate some people in all countries rather than all people in some countries."

And these journalists just got jobs that give them unusually outsized power in the presidential election, moderating the debates. So how are they picked and what can and can't they do?

Plus, as the pandemic wears on, a huge number of New Yorkers are packing up and relocating outside the city. Will it bounce back the way that it has after past setbacks? I'll talk to a lifelong New Yorker who wrote a widely-read essay that predicts not this time.



SMERCONISH: Will so-called vaccine nationalism slow down an ending to the global pandemic? The United States will not participate in an international effort to develop and distribute a coronavirus vaccine because the initiative is tied to the World Health Organization.

This will keep the U.S. isolated from 170 countries involved in the initiative and it's a big bet on Operation Warp Speed, the federal government's effort to speed development of drugs to fight the pandemic. The U.S. surgeon general tells states to be ready for a COVID-19 vaccine by November, quote, "just in case."

By the way, we reached out to the Biden campaign to hear how they would approach the vaccine distribution. Haven't gotten a response yet.

[09:20:01] Trump administration officials have compared the global sharing of vaccines to oxygen masks dropping inside a depressurized plane, quote, "You put on your own mask first and then you help others," but writing for "Foreign Affairs," Thomas Bollyky says developing a vaccine without providing access to other countries would be the equivalent of oxygen masks dropping only in first class. His article is titled, "The Tragedy of Vaccine Nationalism: Only Cooperation Can End the Pandemic."

Thomas Bollyky is the Director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. He's also an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University. OK. Let me try and crystallize the issue. The U.S. has made deals with six pharma companies. If we get first access to a vaccine, should an asymptomatic American teenager get it before a health care worker in a foreign country?

THOMAS BOLLYKY, DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL HEALTH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Absolutely not. It's not in the U.S. interest that that would be the case. Really the U.S. interest here with vaccines are fourfold. First, we want to end this pandemic. Everybody wants to end this pandemic, but this is a virus that doesn't know any borders. Treating it as if it does isn't going to help. We need to prop up other healthcare systems, we need to stop transmission, we need to protect vulnerable people because otherwise it'll come back to the States.

Second, there are likely to be more than one vaccine that emerges here. If we're not willing to share our early vaccines, other countries won't do the same. Third, we are suffering economically because the world economy is under pressure from this pandemic. We need to end the pandemic and last, if we're not willing to share in this case, how are we going to ever have global cooperation in future waves of this pandemic or on other global problems?

SMERCONISH: I happen to think this is the most underreported, interesting issue of the presidential campaign which is why I made reference to really wanting to hear what the Biden folks say on this, what former Vice President Biden himself says on this. We know where the president stands, right? I mean, this is the -- this is the epitome of America first in his eyes. What of the argument that says, Professor Bollyky, well, we paid for it. Why shouldn't we vaccinate that American teen before the Italian healthcare worker?

BOLLYKY: So we're getting what we pay for if we're able to end this pandemic. We're not getting good value for money if we waste it on the asymptomatic teen instead of using it in a way that ends this pandemic sooner.

SMERCONISH: You acknowledge -- I'm going to put a quote on the screen from your essay in "Foreign Affairs." You acknowledge a tough sales job.

Here's what you said, "Many remain unconvinced that voters would understand the long-term health and economic consequences of the coronavirus spreading unabated abroad are greater than the immediate threat posed by their or their loved ones' having to wait to be vaccinated at home.

And to politicians, the potential for opposition at home may seem like a bigger risk than outrage abroad over their hoarding supplies, especially if it is for a limited time and other countries are seen as likely to do the same." So what is your counsel to lawmakers as to how you convince the public?

BOLLYKY: So you'd need to educate the public on why we would share. The issue, of course, is it sounds like we're letting vaccines go abroad before every American gets it. That's a bad thing. How can we do that, not protect our fellow citizens? What, again, people don't realize, and this is important for your viewers, is that these early vaccines are likely to only be partially protective. They also may only protect against disease.

So think of your flu shot where you get it every year, it protects you from getting severe form of the disease. It doesn't stop influenza from spreading in the environment. Some people still get sick. That's what these vaccines are likely to be like. If there's a raging pandemic abroad, it's going to come back to bite us here domestically. Vaccinating everyone in a way that leaves us vulnerable and makes it less likely other countries will share their vaccine supplies for future vaccines doesn't help us.

SMERCONISH: I get the Tom Friedman argument. The world is indeed flat. Final question. Is it in the best health interest of the American teen that I've cited in my hypothetical that the Italian healthcare worker get vaccinated before he or she does?

BOLLYKY: Absolutely because, again, at the end of the day, we need to end this pandemic. This pandemic is going to continue to spread if we don't stop transmission chains, we don't prop up, keep health systems functioning, we're not protecting those most vulnerable to catching it. The American teenager's interest from a health perspective is making sure we can stop this earlier. From an employment future perspective, it's in their interest that we do the same.


SMERCONISH: Thomas Bollyky, thanks so much. It's a provocative issue. I appreciate you being here.

BOLLYKY: My pleasure.

SMERCONISH: What are you saying on my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages? Catherine, what do we have? Facebook, "If we target problem areas, isn't the U.S. the biggest problem area?," says Jamal. Well, there's something to be said for that.

His argument, Jamal, is that you can't vaccinate only those in the United States because it will be short-sighted. For example, the global economy could drag us all down. What if all of a sudden we've protected ourselves, in his airplane analogy, but everybody back in coach is still suffering from the virus?

Look, this -- now you get it. This is the survey question of the day today on my website. Hey, Catherine, can we put up the quote from the WHO? Do you have that slide handy? If you do, put it up because I think it'll really -- there we go. this is what the WHO says, "The first priority must be to vaccinate some people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries." Go to my website at and tell me, do you agree with that?

Up ahead, the President fending off charges that he made scurrilous remarks about the military.

Plus, this week, the presidential debate moderators were named, one each from "Fox News," C-SPAN," "NBC" and "USA Today." What goes into their selection process? How much freedom do they have to shape their lines of questioning? I'll ask the co-chair of the commission that makes these decisions. Here's a key moment from "Fox"'s Chris Wallace sit down recently with the President.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's gotten totally out of control and it's really because they want to defund the police and Biden wants to defund the police.



[09:30:35] SMERCONISH: It's the most scurrilous thing that can be said about an American president. And if true, it might sway the election.

Writing for "The Atlantic," Jeffrey Goldberg claims this. When President Donald Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American cemetery near Paris in 2018, he blamed rain for the last-minute decision saying that -- quote -- "the helicopter couldn't fly" and that the Secret Service wouldn't drive him there. Neither claim was true.

Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day. In a conversation with senior staff members in the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, why should I go to that cemetery?

It's filled with losers. In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as -- quote -- "suckers" for getting kill.

CNN has not independently verified the report. President Trump vehemently denies the allegations. Yesterday he called the charge -- quote -- "more made-up fake news given by disgusting and jealous failures in a disgraceful attempt to influence the 2020 election." The president also seemed to be lay a predicate to defend himself should retired four-star general and former chief of staff, John Kelly, support the Goldberg narrative.

In the meantime, there's the John Bolton book, "The Room Where It Happened," which says this. "On Saturday, I went to the U.S. Ambassador's residence, where Trump was staying, to brief him before his bilateral with Macron. The weather was bad, Kelly and I spoke about whether to travel as planned to the Chateau-Theirry Belleau Wood monuments and nearby American Cemeteries where many U.S. World War I dead were buried.

Marine One's crew was saying that bad visibility could make it imprudent to chopper to the cemetery. The ceiling was not too low for Marines to fly in combat, but flying POTUS was obviously something very different. The press turned canceling the cemetery visit into a story that Trump was afraid of travelling in the rain and took glee in pointing out that other world leaders traveled around during the day.

Of course, none of them were the President of the United States, but the press didn't understand that the rules for U.S. presidents are different from the rules for 190 other leaders who don't command the world's greatest military forces."

So, what are we left to think? For now, some will say that the alleged inaction and comments by the president are in keeping with the sort of thing that he said about, for example, John McCain. On the other hand, Bolton was in France. He's no friend of Donald Trump. And if the story were true, he would have put it in his book.

Maybe there's something to be read into this. The president spoke in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, on Thursday. For years, his exit song has been the counterintuitive Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want," but the Stones objected. So in Latrobe, when the president finished, the sound system played the Village People singing "YMCA" followed by a curious choice, the Creedence Clearwater revival anthem, "Fortunate Son." John Fogerty's lyrics rail against sons of privilege escaping war service.


JOHN FOGERTY, SINGER (singing): Some folks are born, made to wave the flag. Ooh, their red, white and blue. And when the band plays "Hail to the Chief," ooh, they point the cannon at you, Lord. It ain't me. It ain't me. I ain't no senator's son, son. It ain't me. It ain't me. I ain't no fortunate one, no.




SMERCONISH: The much-anticipated first presidential debate this month, September 29, and the moderators for the three showdowns between Donald Trump and Joe Biden will be Chris Wallace of "Fox News," Steve Scully of "C-Span," Kristen Welker of "NBC News." Susan Page of "USA Today" is handling the vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris.

Joining me now, the co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Frank Fahrenkopf. Mr. Chairman, thanks so much for being here. What influence did the campaigns have on the selection process?

FRANK FAHRENKOPF, CO-CHAIRMAN, COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES: None at all, Michael. We don't consult the campaigns.

We start about six months out from the first debate to monitor those people who are on television or radio, to see what they're saying. If it's a print reporter, what they're writing. We're looking for someone who is not so biased one way or another, that they can't be a fair facilitator, a moderator of the debates.

But -- and we're looking at those individuals. We're not looking at the newspapers they worked for or the television networks they work for. It's individual reporters and whether or not they have the character and ability that we're looking for.

SMERCONISH: What amount of discretion is now placed into the hands of the four regarding questions they can ask?

FAHRENKOPF: Well, a tremendous amount of discretion. The commission, and no one else but the moderator knows what, in fact, they're going to ask. We have no knowledge. We give it to them and their journalistic integrity to decide how it's going to go forward.

[09:40:02] Now, you know, we changed the format from some early years, when it was a moderator and free panelist. Now there's a single moderator for each debate, and on the first and last presidential debate, the 90 minutes, which is not interrupted by commercials or anything else, is divided into six 15-minute segments.

And a few days before the debate, the moderator indicates to the candidates what the subject matter will be in each of those six pods. In other words, foreign policy, taxation, education, et cetera. And then that moderator, during that 15 minutes has the ability to drill down and really get the opinion of both individuals, so that it's not just a two-minute answer that they normally use in responding to something out on the trail. Tremendous amount of discretion given to the moderators.

SMERCONISH: Do you view the role of a moderator as being an umpire insofar as, they need to be calling balls and strikes? Should they, for example, be fact checking, if they can, in real time?

FAHRENKOPF: No, this is supposed to be a debate. A debate between, this year, it looks like it will just be two candidates, that we had, as you know, in 1992, three candidates when Ross Perot was involved in the debates. But it's not the moderator's job to be, in effect, the fact checker.

In other words, we try to impress upon them the difference between being a moderator and just being someone who's interviewing a candidate, because if you're interviewing a candidate, and they give you an answer that varies from what they did, say, a week before. If you're interviewing them, you would say, wait a minute, you said something different a week before.

It is not the job of the moderator here if one of the candidates does that. It's the job of the other candidate to say, wait a minute, you've changed your position.

So, no, it's not the task that we give to the moderators to be fact checkers. That's not their job. They're there to facilitate the debate.

SMERCONISH: And finally, Mr. Chairman, and I'm limited on time, to what extent are you concerned that given the anticipated voting by mail this cycle, that many will vote before they watch all three debates?

FAHRENKOPF: Well, we've done a lot of work and a lot of study on this, Michael. And the experts tell us that there are two types of people on mail-in ballots or absentee ballots. Those who get them and immediately mark them and put them back in the mail. They tend to be partisans, they tend to be people who follow the race, who are very strong in one part or the other, and nothing is going to change their mind. But overall, historically, most people don't really cast those ballots until maybe the last two weeks of the campaign.

So it is a concern, because the coronavirus has changed everything that we do. And certainly, this will deeply affect it some way. But history tells us that not that many will automatically mail them before the debates.

SMERCONISH: I speak for everyone when I say, we can't wait. Thank you, Frank Fahrenkopf. I appreciate it.

FAHRENKOPF: You're welcome, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, the "Land of the Flee." That's what the "New York Post" calls its own New York City because of the steady motorcade of moving vans relocating residents to other places. My next guest, a lifelong New Yorker published a piece declaring that unlike after economic crashes and 9/11, this time, it won't rebound. I'll ask him why.

Please remember to answer this week's survey question at Do you agree with the World Health Organization when they say -- quote -- "the first priority must be to vaccinate some people in all countries rather than all people in some countries"?



SMERCONISH: Has COVID-19 rendered New York City dead forever? That's the topic of a very public battle between my next guest, James Altucher and comedian Jerry Seinfeld. It all started with an essay that Altucher posted on LinkedIn later picked up by the "New York Post."

Altucher has a successful podcast. He's an entrepreneur. He's a best- selling author. He declared the following. I love New York City. When I first moved to New York City it was a dream come true. So much personality, so many stories, I loved New York City. I could start any type of business.

I could meet people. I had family, friends, opportunities. No matter what happened to me, New York City was a net I could fall back on and bounce back up. Now it's completely dead. But New York City always bounces back. No. Not this time. But New York City is the center of the financial universe. Opportunities will flourish here again. Not this time. New York City has experienced worse, they say. No, it hasn't.

The piece got so much attention that Seinfeld felt compelled to respond with a "New York Times" opinion piece titled, "So You Think New York Is Dead? It's Not." Which reads in part, one thing I know for sure, the last thing we need in the thick of so many challenges is some putz on LinkedIn wailing and whimpering, everyone's gone. I want 2019 back. Oh, shut up.

Joining me now to discuss is James Altucher. James, I really hope that you're wrong. What of the Seinfeld argument that, you know -- I know you do. We all want New York City to thrive. But what of Jerry's argument that people together, there's an energy that comes from New York City that no bandwidth can replicate?

JAMES ALTUCHER, WROTE ESSAY "NYC IS DEAD FOREVER": You know, that's a really great point. I mean, that's the reason, historically, for cities is that people come together, they share ideas, they share innovation, they create opportunities together.


But, again, several things have changed. One is the deficits in New York City are spiking. The tax revenues are leaving. New York City vacancies right now are at an all-time high. The office buildings are empty. And they're no longer empty because of coronavirus. People have already left the city. Companies are going remote.

Right now, de Blasio, the mayor, is thinking of laying off 22,000 city employees, because he can't -- there's no more money left. And if you lose your health care workers, if you you're your teachers, your garbage collectors, your police, if everybody goes unemployed because 50 percent of the restaurants are going out of business, if you don't have the taxes because everyone has left, how do you run a city?

Why would people move to a city that's getting -- sinking worse and worse in terms of infrastructure, in terms of paying for garbage collectors or teachers or police?

It just doesn't happen. You can't exchange the ideas. He brings up San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Well, companies are leaving San Francisco. Tesla, Palantir, Google, Twitter, they're either going remote or they're moving out.

So, I don't think that's a strong argument. The strong argument --


ALTUCHER: -- cities but what's going to happen is the second tier cities in the United States are going to flourish and bloom. Anything from Dallas to Nashville to Miami to Boulder to Austin, these cities are going to -- and that's where New York City people are moving right now.

SMERCONISH: Correct me if I'm wrong. September 11 you were living three blocks away from the epicenter.


SMERCONISH: People say how can this, the pandemic, be worse than that?

ALTUCHER: Look, that was obviously extremely difficult for New York City and the country, but I was there and right afterwards there was just this love of New York City, not just from the country but all around the world. Everybody wanted to help out and help New York City in its rebuilding, and big difference between now and then and between 2008 and then.

Your average bandwidth, even in 2008, 2009, was 2 megabits per second. Now it's 40 megabits per second, which means we can have these conversations on HD TV quality all day long and never suffer from it. You couldn't do that in 2008 when it was ten times worse. So remote is possible. People are doing Zoom meetings. Jerry has mentioned and I appreciate this but I don't think he's correct, he mentioned everybody loves going to work. Everybody hates remote. I don't know if he's ever worked in a cubical and had to share a bathroom with 500 other I.T. workers. But people don't really like working in a 6x6 cubical where they have to share a toilet with their boss.

People -- it turns out and I've seen studies on this, companies --


SMERCONISH: Quick final question because I'm limited --


SMERCONISH: -- I'm limited on time. Do you feel some sense of vindication because he was photographed this week in the Hamptons and "The Daily Mail" made a big deal over it?

ALTUCHER: No, because we all knew he was in the Hamptons ever since the beginning of the pandemic. Obviously he cares about New York. It's the first article he's ever written about anything.

So, obviously he cares about New York City. He cares what's happening. Yes, he trashed me, but, you know, everybody's emotional about this issue. And I'm trying to just look at the facts. I love New York City as well. I don't want it to die. But we have to -- we can't be in denial about what's happening.

When these words were fired -- when --

SMERCONISH: You can -- I get it. You can do worse than being called -- than being called a putz by Jerry Seinfeld. James, I've got to roll. Thank you so much.

ALTUCHER: Thank you, Michael. Appreciate being on the show.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, your best and worst tweets and we'll get to the result of the survey question. Go vote right now at

Do you agree with the WHO, the first priority must be to vaccinate some people in all countries rather than all the people in some countries?



SMERCONISH: Hey, time to see how you responded to the survey question today at

Do you agree with the World Health Organization when they say the first priority must be to vaccinate some people in all countries rather than all people in some countries? Here's what the survey says. Wow, 86 percent yes. And now I'm told that the voting is closer to 20,000. No. That's not where we're headed and I think this is a really important discussion issue in the presidential context. I mean, the Trump administration says, look, it's like we're all on an airplane that's depressurizing so you put on your mask like they tell you and then you protect the person next to you who is struggling, the elderly woman, the infant on your lap.

And my guest, Professor Bollyky says, no, no, no, it's the equivalent of the mask coming down in first class only and not back in coach. Let's see some of the responses that came in, Catherine. What do we have?

Atlas says no credibility and you bring him on despite his dangerous views.

Hey, Michael Blum, I'm going to sound even more pompous than I already am, if that's possible. I did you a favor by providing Dr. Atlas a forum. Dr. Atlas is a senior advisor now to the president on COVID related issues.

Isn't it important to us as Americans to know and come to terms and understand not necessarily agree but to know those who are responsible for our governance? It would be a disservice to you if I didn't bring him on and I had the opportunity to do so? I have just like zero tolerance for that. I want to represent all sides, and you can be the judge, but to shut out a person in that role, no.


That would be a big, big mistake and I won't do it. Enjoy the holiday weekend. That survey question will stay up at I'll see you next week.