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AMERICA’S WEALTH CLUB: “GO TO WORK–AND DIE FOR ME”

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on March 31, 2020 at 12:09 am

“Capitalism Kills” could have been a headline in Pravda, the official “newspaper” of the former Soviet Union.

Instead, it’s billionaires themselves who are responsible for such a sentiment. They are doing their level best to persuade workers: “I regret that I have only one life to give for my CEO.”

Richard Kovacevich is the former CEO of Norwest Bank (1966 – 1998) and Wells Fargo (1998 – 2007). He wants healthy people under age 55 to return to work in late April if the outbreak is contained enough.

There are two major problems with this:

  1. There aren’t enough test kits to screen everyone for possible signs of the Coronavirus.
  2. Many of those who carry the virus show no signs of infection.

“We’ll gradually bring those people back and see what happens. Some of them will get sick, some may even die. I don’t know,” said Kovacevich.

He might just as well have added: “I don’t care.”

I think Trump is wrong on rates, we need to get to neutral, says ...

“Do you want to suffer more economically or take some risk that you’ll get flu-like symptoms and a flu-like experience? Do you want to take an economic risk or a health risk? You get to choose.”

If President Donald Trump gets to choose, the nationwide social distancing practices that health professionals say are essential to saving lives during the Coronavirus outbreak will end on April 30.

He originally chose Easter as a pretext for doing this: “You’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it would be a beautiful time.”

The real reason: He wants to return to return to holding his mass public rallies—which some have compared to the Nuremberg rallies hosted by Adolf Hitler. There he can spew hatred at everyone he dislikes and bask in the worshipful glow of his fanatical base.

Fortunately, the rising tide of COVID-19 cases forced him to abandon his original April 12 date. 

And many highly-paid executives in American corporations are itching to put their employees back at work—and on the Coronavirus firing line. 

“The damages of keeping the economy closed as it is could be worse than losing a few more people,” Tom Golisano, the founder and chairman of the payroll processor Paychex Inc. told Bloomberg. “I have a very large concern that if businesses keep going along the way they’re going then so many of them will have to fold.” 

Forbes estimates Golisano’s net worth to be $3 billion.  

Like Richard Kovacevich, he wants states that haven’t been hit hard by the virus to return to normalcy.

Tom Golisano.JPG

Tom Golisano

Penale52 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Lloyd Blankfein, the former head of Goldman Sachs, wrote on Twitter: “Crushing the economy, jobs and morale is also a health issue—and beyond. Within a very few weeks let those with a lower risk to the disease return to work.”

There’s no question that keeping businesses closed across the country—as scientists and health professionals are urging—will inflict large-scale economic damage.

But rushing people back to work would prolong the outbreak and overwhelm the healthcare system. And it would certainly increase—perhaps exponentially—the number of dead and infected casualties of the pandemic. Economists from Northwestern University calculated that keeping social distancing practices in place until cases decline could save 600,000 lives nationwide.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warns that the United States could experience 100,000 deaths and millions of viral infections from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Ignoring these facts is Right-wing TV and radio host Glenn Beck, who, according to Forbes, was worth $90 million in 2014.

“I would rather have my children stay home and all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working.  Even if we all get sick, I’d rather die than kill the country,” Beck, 56, said on his show “The Blaze.”

Of course, Beck works alone in his own studio—and is thus highly unlikely to come in contact with an infected carrier.

Glenn Beck (25030472253) (cropped).jpg

Glenn Beck

George Skidmore photo

Like Beck, millionaires and billionaires can afford to socially distance themselves from others and still accumulate huge piles of wealth.

“I think what we are doing with the shutdown is good but in a few weeks people will need to be around people,” said billionaire Tilman Fertitta, owner of a casino, hotel and restaurant empire.

He certainly needs “people to be around people.” His businesses depend heavily on huge numbers of customers willing to spend money.

And, in this case, to risk their lives doing so.

Adds Fertotta: “Otherwise you are going to go into an economic crisis that is going to take us years to dig ourselves out of.”

Fertitta’s income is estimated at $4.4 billion, according to Forbes.

For men like Richard Kovacevich, Tom Golisano, Lloyd Blankfein, Glenn Beck and Tilman Fertitta,, the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt have no meaning: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”

For Republicans and their wealthy benefactors, “pro-life” means strictly anti-abortion. Any other form of life—the elderly, the ill, victims of pollution, those slaughtered with military-style weaponry used by criminals—are totally expendable.

EVEN FASCISM HAS ITS LIMITS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 23, 2020 at 12:29 am

Apparently some lies are off-limits on the Fox News Network. That is, if they provoke enough angry audience response.

COVID-19 had stricken 1,016 Americans and caused 31 deaths. The virus was raging in 33 states.The stock market had had its worst week of trading since the “Wall Street meltdown” of 2008. 

But on March 9, Trish Regan, host of Trish Regan Primetime on the Fox Business Network, attacked not the virus but those who do not share her fervent embrace of Donald Trump.

“We’ve reached a tipping point,” said Regan. “The hate is boiling. Many in the liberal media are using Coronavirus in an attempt to demonize and destroy the President, despite the virus originating halfway around the world.

“This is yet another attempt to impeach the President. And sadly, it seems the left cares little for any of the destruction they leave in their wake, including losses in the stock market. This, unfortunately, is all just part of the political casualties for them.”

Trish Regan

To make certain no one in the television audience missed the point, an electronically generated caption read: “Coronavirus Impeachment Scam.”

On the same day that Regan accused Trump’s critics of being haters, Trump himself was directing hate through his weapon of choice: Twitter: 

“The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant. Surgeon General, ‘The risk is low to the average American.’”

Actually, with the virus spreading quickly throughout all 50 states, the risk is not low to the average American. It is not the news that’s fake, but the lies and ignorance Trump is spouting.

SARS-CoV-2 without background.png

Coronavirus

On March 14, Fox Business Network announced that Regan’s program would be on “hiatus” until further notice. 

The reason: Using one of the favorite words of the Right, her comments had “triggered” an avalanche of criticism. Some of this came from Coronavirus victims. Some came from those related to those victims. And some came simply from people who didn’t appreciate being so blatantly lied to.

On March 13, perhaps warned of her coming suspension, Regan took a more conciliatory tone: “Our path forward right now is together, the left and the right united to fight this crisis. We’re all in this together, and we need to stay safe.”

Trying to put the best spin on her humiliating suspension, she tweeted that same evening: “I want to let everyone know that Trish Regan Primetime is now on hiatus. FBN has taken prudent steps to limit staffing levels and is prioritizing its coverage during market hours. I fully support this decision — we all must to do our part to keep our colleagues safe.”

Thus—at least according to Regan—her leaving the air was not an act of punishment but a “prudent step” to “limit staffing levels” at the station.

Is there a lesson to be learned here? Yes.

And it comes, fittingly enough, from Nazi Germany—the regime which has provided so much unacknowledged inspiration for America’s Right-wing demagogues. 

On February 27, 1943, a battalion of SS men, Gestapo agents and regular policemen fanned out across Berlin to arrest the city’s last remaining Jews. Jews still working in armaments factories, as well as Jews married to non-Jews, were the main targets.

Intermarried Jews were jailed, under SS guard, at Rosenstrasse 2-4, the Jewish community’s administration building.

As rumors of the mass arrests stirred through Berlin, the German wives of those arrested flocked to Rosenstrasse. Arriving alone or in pairs, they formed a crowd that rapidly kept expanding. One woman, accompanied by her brother—a Wehrmacht soldier in full uniform—approached an SS guard. “If my brother-in-law is not released,” the soldier told the guard, “I will not return to the front.”

As night fell, the demonstrators refused to end their protest. They demanded the return of their husbands. Several approached the SS guards and loudly complained. For a whole week, day and night, the protest continued, with the crowd often shouting: “Let our husbands go! We want our husbands back!” 

Memorial commemorating the protest 

Niki Sublime from Boston, USA / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

As many as 600 protesters gathered at one time, and thousands had joined in by the protest’s end. Several times the SS guards shouted: “Clear the streets—or we’ll shoot!” At this, the women scattered—only to quickly return.

Even some hardened Nazis were impressed. A Gestapo guard told one of the Jewish prisoners: “Your relatives are out there protesting for you. This is German loyalty.”

On March 6, 1943, Joseph Goebbels in his capacity as the Gauleiter (Governor) of Berlin, ordered all of the people imprisoned at Rosenstrasse 2-4 released.

According to Leopold Gutterer, Goebbels’s deputy at the Propaganda Ministry, Goebbels said if force was used to crush the demonstrations, it would prompt wider protests all over Berlin, which might soon become political, and could possibly even lead to the overthrow of the Nazi regime.

So the lesson is clear, and it is this: If average citizens, even in the heart of a brutal dictatorship, can show courage against lies and injustice, so can Americans living in what is supposed to be a democracy.

YOUR CORONAVIRUS CZAR

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 16, 2020 at 12:09 am

On February 26, President Donald Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead a task force to combat the spread of the Coronavirus. 

In doing so, he rejected calls to appoint an outside medical expert.

This put the Federal medical establishment under a trusted sycophant—and gave Trump a convenient scapegoat if something went wrong.

So here’s what America is getting as its medical savior.

Michael Richard “Mike” Pence served as a Republican member of the House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013. He also served as Chairman of the House Republican Conference from 2009 to 2012.  His record included:

  • Voted, in 2007, to defund Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions.
  • Opposed, in 2009, giving American citizenship to children born to illegal aliens living within the United States.
  • Compared the U.S. Supreme Court’s upholding the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
  • Voted to eliminate funding for climate education programs and to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2012, he ran for Governor of Indiana, won the election, and assumed this office in 2013.

As Governor, Pence: 

  • Signed legislation in 2015 that repealed an 80-year-old Indiana law requiring construction companies working on publicly funded projects to pay a prevailing wage.
  • Successfully lobbied in 2013 to limit reductions in sentences for marijuana offenses.

On July 15, 2016, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he had selected Pence as his Vice Presidential running mate in the 2016 Presidential election.

But for all of Pence’s actions as Congressman and Governor, the one which may prove the most far-reaching may be this: His signing into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

As Governor of Indiana, he did this on March 26, 2015. The law allows any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.

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Mike Pence

Officially, its intent is to prevent the government from forcing business owners to act in ways contrary to strongly held religious beliefs. Unofficially, its purpose is to appease the hatred of gays and lesbians by the religious Right, a key constituency of the Republican party.

Thus, a bakery can legally refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding or a restaurant can refuse to serve lesbian patrons.

And a hospital can refuse to provide care to a gay or lesbian patient. 

The bill was passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of the Republican-controlled state legislature.  

“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” Pence said in a statement on the day he signed the bill.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

Yet for all his praise for the bill, Pence signed it in a ceremony closed to the public and the press. The media were asked to leave even the waiting area of the governor’s office.

At least one unintended consequence of that legislation has already surfaced: The First Church of Cannabis.

The day after Pence signed the Act, church founder Bill Levin announced on his Facebook page that he had filed paperwork with the office of the Indiana Secretary of State.

Its registration had been approved—and Levin was ecstatic: “Now we begin to accomplish our goals of Love, Understanding, and Good Health.

“Donate $100 or more and become a GREEN ANGEL. Donate $500 or more and become a GOLD ANGEL. Donate $1000 or more and become a CHURCH POOHBA.”

This legislation has not only brought legal marijuana to Indiana. It may bring Sharia law as well.

Since 9/11, Right-wingers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have warned that Muslims are trying to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on America. And now Indiana’s legislators, in elevating religion above the law, may have laid the legal foundations for making that possible.

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Muslims demanding the imposition of Sharia law–on themselves and non-Muslims

What will happen when: 

  • Muslims in Indiana claim their right—guaranteed in Islamic religious law—to have as many as four wives?  
  • Muslims demand a taxpayer-funded “halal” non-pork food shelf at free food pantries for the poor? (Exactly this happened among Somali refugees in Minnesota in 2015.) 
  • Muslims demand that police departments cancel counter-terrorism courses by claiming that their materials are anti-Muslim? (Exactly this happened to several police departments in Illinois.)

And when they claim that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects those rights? 

Now that Pence is Coronizavirus Czar, it’s essential to remember:

  • In 2001, when he ran for Congress, he posted on his campaign website: “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.”
  • As a Congressman, Pence voted against legislation allowing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the tobacco industry.
  • During a CNN panel in 2002 about abstinence education, Pence said: “Frankly, condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases.”
  • In 2015, Indiana had an unprecedented HIV outbreak. Although the Centers for Disease Control recommended clean needle exchanges, Pence, as governor, opposed this.

As the Coronavirus threatens to overwhelm the United States as it has Italy, the appointment of Mike Pence as America’s Dr. Marcus Welby is not an event to celebrate.

WHEN HATERS BECOME WHINERS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 12, 2020 at 12:23 am

COVID-19 has so far stricken 1,016 Americans and caused 31 deaths. The virus is raging in 33 states. The stock market has had its worst week of trading since the “Wall Street meltdown” of 2008. 

But on March 9, Trish Regan, host of Trish Regan Primetime on the Fox Business Network, attacked not the virus but those who do not share her fervent embrace of Donald Trump.

“We’ve reached a tipping point,” said Regan. “The hate is boiling. Many in the liberal media are using Coronavirus in an attempt to demonize and destroy the President, despite the virus originating halfway around the world.

“This is yet another attempt to impeach the President. And sadly, it seems the left cares little for any of the destruction they leave in their wake, including losses in the stock market. This, unfortunately, is all just part of the political casualties for them.

“This is impeachment all over again. And like with the Mueller investigation, like with Ukraine-gate, they don’t care who they hurt. Whether it be their need to create mass hysteria to encourage a market sell-off unlike anything we’ve seen recently, or whether it be to create mass hysteria to stop our economy dead in its tracks, don’t kid yourself. They told us how much they crave a recession as a way to get rid of Donald Trump.”

Trish Regan

To make certain no one in the television audience missed the point, an electronically generated caption read: “Coronavirus Impeachment Scam.”

On the same day that Regan accused Trump’s critics of being haters, Trump himself was directing hate through his weapon of choice: Twitter: 

“The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant. Surgeon General, ‘The risk is low to the average American.’”

Actually, with the virus spreading quickly throughout at least 33 states, the risk is not low to the average American. It is not the news that’s fake, but the lies and ignorance Trump is spouting.

SARS-CoV-2 without background.png

Coronavirus

And: “Now the Democrats are trying to smear Bernie with Russia, Russia, Russia. They are driving him Crazy!”

This was a reference to warnings by national security officials that Russia—through its state-owned media—is trying to sow social media agitation and disinformation within the United States. The goal: To ensure that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination for President. 

According to these officials, Russian President Vladimir Putin believes Sanders would be far easier for Trump—his preferred candidate—to beat in November.

During the 2016 Presidential race, Trump openly called on “Russia”—i.e., Vladimir Putin—to “find the 33,000 emails that are missing [from Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s computer]. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” Hours later, the Main Intelligence Directorate in Moscow targeted Clinton’s personal office and hit more than 70 other Clinton campaign accounts. 

Vladimir Putin (2020-02-20).jpg

Vladimir Putin

Kremlin.ru / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)  

And still more from Trump: “The Obama/Biden Administration is the most corrupt Administration in the history of our Country!”

This is a flat-out lie. President Barack Obama was never the subject of a Congressional or Special Prosecutor investigation—unlike Trump, who was impeached last December by the House of Representatives but acquitted by a majority-Republican Senate.

Perhaps what’s most upsetting Trump is that, since coming into office, he has touted the success of the stock market and claimed to be responsible for it. And now the market—owing to fears of Coronavirus and the Trump administration’s failures to stem it—is tanking.

On August 28, 2018, appearing on “Fox and Friends,” Trump had boasted: “I tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor.” 

So now Trump is coming under attack in the only area where he could once claim success—even if he had nothing to do with it.

On Facebook, a NYMAG.COM story on Trish Regan’s rant ignited the following reactions:

Are these Fox News people asses or what? The entire country of Italy is shut down because of this virus. The virus doesn’t give a fat rat’s ass about Trump or impeachment. Just about spreading and infecting.” 

And: “OMG. Someone needs to sue Fox News. News is supposed to be factual reported events. I saw a news clip from Fox suggesting this is blown out of proportion by the democrats just to hurt Trump. Idiots, I used to work for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention). Better listen to what they say. The President lies…. Sue Fox News for libel.”  

The truth is that people like Trish Regan are not asses. Assuming they are allows them to skirt responsibility for what they do and the consequences it brings. They know what they’re doing—and that is to keep in power a Russian-supported tyrant by any means at hand.

And since the truth won’t help them they resort to lies—even if untold numbers of trusting Americans follow their “advice” and become victims of a raging and deadly virus.

DYING OF THE FEAR: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 11, 2020 at 12:06 am

There’s an Arabian myth that offers a timely commentary on the hysteria surrounding the Coronavirus. 

Mohammed is walking along the road from Medina to Mecca when he meets the Genie of Cholera. 

“Where are you going, O Cursed One?” asks Mohammed.

“To Mecca, to kill 10,000 of the faithful,” replies the genie.

Image result for Images of the Grim Reaper

“All right,” says Mohammed. “See to it that you kill no more than 10,000.”

Six months later the two meet again—and Mohammed is furious: “You are a filthy liar!”

“Why do you say that?” demands the Genie of Cholera.

“Because when I reached Mecca, there were 30,000 dead, not the 10,000 you promised.”

“Oh, I kept by my word and killed only 10,000,” replies the genie. “But 20,000 more died of the fear.”

Fear is stalking the streets of the United States today.

Medical supply companies are rushing to turn out millions of surgical face masks—not for use by doctors but ordinary Americans.

Medical professionals warn that this will prove counter-productive for doctors and ordinary citizens.

Doctors and nurses need those masks when they’re performing surgery—or just coming in contact with patients who might be carrying the Coronavirus. They also wear them when examining patients suffering from routine illnesses.

Standard surgical masks are designed to protect against large, airborne droplets. They cannot protect against viruses. Their loose fit makes it possible for droplets to enter around the edges of the mask.

Image result for Images of the surgical masks

Standard surgical mask

The N-95 respirator mask is a tight-fitting upgrade that forces inhaled air toward the mask but not its edges. It can filter out 95% of particulates—but not viral particles.

Nor has panic-buying been restricted to face masks. Hand sanitizers, bottled water, toilet paper—even rubbing alcohol—have been snapped off shelves, leaving stores empty of them.

“It’s been nuts,” says Costco’s Chief Financial Officer, Richard A. Galanti.

Businesses that rely on regular patrons—such as restaurants and movie theaters—are especially suffering.

In New York City and San Francisco, businesses in the Chinese community have been hard-hit. It was in Wuhan, China, that the Coronavirus first erupted. Millions of people continue to identify it as a peculiarly Chinese ailment.

The industries most affected are those directly connected to tourism. Cruise ship lines have proven a ready source of contagion, bringing large numbers of people together in what can amount to a floating hothouse for viruses.

Cruise ships have played a major role in the outbreak. More than 700 cases have been linked to the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined off the coast of Japan for two weeks. At least 21 more cases were confirmed aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship that docked in Oakland, Calif., on March 9.

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Diamond Princess cruise ship

File:Diamond Princess (ship, 2004) and Port of Toba.jpg

The State Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have warned elderly and medically vulnerable Americans to avoid cruise ships until the outbreak ends. The CDC recommends that travelers “defer all cruise ship travel worldwide.”

During the 1980s, Kathie Lee Gifford appeared in a series of TV ads for Carnival Cruise Lines, singing an upbeat jingle: 

If they could see you now out on a Funship cruise
You’re eating fancy food and doing what you choose.
I’d like your friends back home to get a good look
At the first-rate Carnival cruise that you took.
All I can say is “Wow!” hey look at where you are.
Tonight you’re living life just like a movie star!
What a Funship, holy cow!
They’d never believe it
If your friends could see you now!

 

This ode to pure hedonism has given way to a climate of sheer panic—among those still aboard cruise liners, those thinking about embarking on cruises and—most especially—among cruise shipping line companies.

A more updated version of Kathie Lee’s song could go:

If they could see you now on a Corona cruise
You’re locked inside your room and someone took your shoes.
I’m sure your friends back home will look on with dread
As the ship docks in port and they haul off the dead.
All I can say is “Wow!”
Hey, look at where you’ll be
You’re turning blue for air
Right there upon the sea!
What a fright ship, holy cow!
They’re sure to believe it
And the doctor’s coming now!

 

And how is the cruise industry responding to the Coronavirus outbreak? By running more TV ads to sign up more passengers!

Perhaps it’s time for Americans to haul out their DVD players and watch Khartoum—a 1966 movie that offers a timely lesson in courage well-suited to the Coronavirus panic.

Image result for Images of "Khartoum" movie poster

It’s based on the true story of British General Charles George Gordon (Charlton Heston) sent to the Sudan in 1884 to evacuate the city of Khartoum before it’s besieged by the army of a dervish fanatic called “The Madhi”—“The Expected One” (Laurence Oliver).

But the siege starts before Gordon can evacuate its 30,000 citizens.

The Madhi orders a bombardment, and frightened townspeople rush into the public square—where Gordon is calmly seated on a camel, holding a Sudanese girl.

As they look up expectedly for guidance, Gordon gently says to the little girl: “I don’t ask you to be unafraid, merely to act unafraid.”

Americans would do well to remember those words—and act on them.

DYING OF THE FEAR: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 10, 2020 at 9:52 am

The outbreak of the Coronavirus has terrified Americans in ways not seen since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

For months after that horror, the two most profitable businesses in the country were video rental stores and food delivery services.

People stayed indoors—and at home, as if they believed this was the one place they would be safe. Everyone feared the next big terror attack—and didn’t want to be on hand when it exploded.

Restaurants, nightclubs, amusement parks and the airlines suffered accordingly.

World Trade Center – September 11, 2001

In the early 1980s, the AIDS epidemic had truly frightened millions of Americans. At first, no one knew what caused it—or, more importantly, how it was spread.

At first, gays were thought to be the only ones at risk. Then the list of potential victims kept expanding to

  • Intravenous drug abusers
  • Native Haitians
  • Recipients of blood transfusions
  • Those with multiple sex partners.

But with the passage of time—and the introduction of AIDS-fighting drugs that allowed victims to generally live ordinary lives—Americans’ fears gradually decreased. AIDS was seen as a disease like tuberculosis—dangerous, but unlikely to strike if you took reasonable precautions.

And now America is facing a new fear—that of the Coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19.

SARS-CoV-2 without background.png

 

Coronavirus

In December 2019, a pneumonia outbreak was reported in Wuhan, China. By December 31, the outbreak was traced to a novel strain of Coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that affect birds and mammals. In humans, Coronaviruses cause respiratory tract infections that are typically mild, such as the common cold. Coronaviruses can cause pneumonia and may cause bronchitis.

When the virus surfaced in China, Americans didn’t worry, as it seemed confined to Wuhan. But then it began spreading.

By January 30, 2020, 9,976 cases had been reported in at least 21 countries, including the first case in the United States.

At that time, United States health authorities repeatedly assured Americans they had nothing to worry about, that “we’re on it.”

For example: On January 28, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar II stated at a press conference: “We’ve been monitoring this virus and preparing a response since back in December, but it’s more than that. Preparing for these kinds of outbreaks is part of daily life at HHS and for America’s public health professionals.

“Preparedness is a day job around here. We are constantly making investments, training personnel at all levels, carrying out simulations and exercises, and sharing information.

“This commitment goes straight to the top: The President and I have been speaking regularly about this outbreak, and I have been speaking with the senior officials at HHS and the White House multiple times each day since the outbreak began to represent an international threat.” 

This was strictly boilerplate rhetoric. What Azar didn’t say was this:

  • Upon taking office as President,  Donald Trump had gutted the permanent epidemic monitoring and command groups set up inside the White House: The National Security Council (NSC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 
  • The reason:  Pathologically jealous of President Barack Obama, Trump has tried to destroy every vestige of Obama’s legacy as the first black President of the United States. And these disease-monitoring groups were set up by Obama following the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.
  • Also: In the spring of 2018, Trump pushed Congress to cut $15 billion from national health spending—and cutting the global disease-fighting budgets of the CDC, National Security Council, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • The Federal $30 million fund for Complex Crises was eliminated as well.
  • In April, 2018, National Security Adviser John Bolton forced Tom Bossert, director of the infectious disease unit at DHS, to resign—along with his entire team.
  • In May, 2018, Trump ordered the NSC’s global health security unit shut down.
  • Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who headed the unit, was reassigned.
  • Neither the NSC nor the DHS epidemic team has been replaced.
  • The “advice” Trump has offered on the epidemic is misinformation—based on ignorance or willful lying. Example: “I think the [World Health Organization estimate of Coronavirus casualties of] 3.4 percent is really a false number—and this is just my hunch—but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this because a lot of people will have this and it’s very mild. They’ll get better very rapidly, they don’t even see a doctor, they don’t even call a doctor. You never hear about those people.”

Above all: Azar didn’t dare say that Trump doesn’t see Coronavirus as a threat to the lives of 300-plus American citizens.  Instead, he sees it as a threat to his continued reign as President.

Trump has repeatedly “joked” about how great it would be if the United States—like China—had a “President-for-Life.” And he has accused those Democrats who impeached him for obstructing Congress and abuse of power as guilty of treason.

In the Coronavirus, Trump has met his match in an enemy he cannot bribe or intimidate. The tragedy is that untold numbers of Americans will pay the price for his ignorance and narcissism. 

TWO DANGERS FACING AMERICA: TRUMP—AND THE CORONAVIRUS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on March 9, 2020 at 12:07 am

On August 23, 2018, President Donald Trump offered an unprecedented reason why he shouldn’t be impeached. 

Appearing on “Fox and Friends,” he said:

  • “I don’t know how you can impeach somebody who’s done a great job.”
  • “I tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor.”
  • Pointing to his head, he said: “Because without this thinking, you would see numbers that you wouldn’t believe in reverse.” 

He didn’t say: “I shouldn’t be impeached because I’m innocent. I didn’t collude with Russian Intelligence to subvert the 2016 Presidential election.” 

Instead, he appealed to the greed and fear of his voting base—and no doubt hoped to reach beyond it: “Keep me in power or you’ll all suffer for it.”

Donald Trump

On February 5, the Republican-dominated Senate acquitted him of the two charges brought by the Democratic House of Representatives on December 18, 2019: 

Article 1: Abuse of Power: For pressuring Ukraine to assist him in his re-election campaign by damaging former Vice President Joseph Biden, his possible 2020 Democratic rival; and

Article 2: Obstruction of Congress: For obstructing Congress by blocking testimony of subpoenaed witnesses and refusing to provide documents in response to House subpoenas in the impeachment inquiry. 

So Trump escaped impeachment—and the country is now suffering for it. 

On February 27, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had its single worst one-day drop in history—falling 1,191 points.

The reason can be summed up in one word: Coronavirus. Simply put, investors hate uncertainty, because it makes it hard to plan. And nothing makes uncertainty like a new and frightening virus that’s easily passed and for which there is no vaccine or cure.

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Coronavirus

CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM / Public domain

And that causes millions of people to change their everyday behavior in unprecedented ways–such as not attending basketball games, eating in restaurants, flying on airplanes, going on cruises—and simply going to work.

Of course, Trump didn’t create the Coronavirus. But he has made it even more of a threat to Americans than it had to be.

In 2017, nearly 700 positions remained vacant at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because Trump imposed a hiring freeze. This affected programs supporting local and state public health emergency readiness, infectious disease control and chronic disease prevention.

Making the situation worse: The CDC’s director, Tom Friedman, stepped down in January, 2017, and it wasn’t until July that the agency got another one: Brenda Fitzgerald. But she served only until January, 2018. She was succeeded—two months later—by Robert Ray Redfield, Jr. He has been the director since then.

The post of director of the CDC is considered one of the most crucial public health positions in the government. The CDC is charged with tracking and preventing infectious disease outbreaks  in the United States and worldwide.

CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia

Another way Trump has sabotaged America’s ability to respond to the Coronavirus outbreak: Gutting the permanent epidemic monitoring and command groups set up inside the White House: The National Security Council (NSC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The reason for this: Trump’s pathological jealousy of and hatred for former President Barack Obama.

Since taking office, Trump has made an all-out effort to destroy every vestige of Obama’s legacy as the first black President of the United States. And these disease-monitoring groups were set up by Obama following the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

In the spring of 2018, Trump pushed Congress to cut $15 billion from national health spending—and cutting the global disease-fighting budgets of the CDC, National Security Council, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Federal $30 million fund for Complex Crises was eliminated as well.

In April, 2018, National Security Adviser John Bolton forced Tom Bossert, director of the infectious disease unit at DHS, to resign—along with his entire team. In May, 2018, Trump ordered the NSC’s global health security unit shut down.

Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who headed the unit, was reassigned.

Neither the NSC nor the DHS epidemic team has been replaced.

The global health section of the CDC was decimated, and had to reduce the number of countries it was monitoring from 49 to 10.

It’s popular to assume that Trump did all of this out of mere ignorance—and there’s plenty of proof of his ignorance in many areas (such as attributing windmills to causing cancer). But far more is at work here.

The vast majority of those who voted for Trump believe that the Federal Government is evil and its agencies that regulate business should be eliminated.

An example of this constituency is Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, which opposes all tax increases and has forced most Republicans to publicly pledge they will as well, under any circumstances.

His most famous quote: “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” 

Under Trump, the epidemic-fighting arm of the Federal Government has become so shrunk that America itself may be the one to drown—in an epidemic of Coronavirus. 

IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT ISN’T TRUE

In Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on February 25, 2020 at 12:06 am

In 2018, consumers were victimized in more “emotional romance scams” than any other category of fraud.

“That’s $143 million that consumers reported that they lost in 2018 to romance scams,” said Monica Vaca, of the Federal Trade Commission.

The average loss per victim amounted to $2,600—seven times higher than other frauds. Most of that money was wired or sent with gift cards.

But there are plenty of other online scams to be alert for:

  • Email phishing scams
  • Credit card scams
  • Bank loan scams
  • Lottery fee scams
  • Online dating scams
  • “Nigerian Prince” scams

Here’s how to protect yourself. 

  • Addressed Generally: “Attention!” “Dear Friend,” “Attention the owner of this email,” “Hello, Dear.” Your name is not mentioned, because this email has been mass-mailed to thousands of intended victims. 
  • Unsolicited:  You’re told that you’ve won a lottery you never entered, or have inherited a fortune from someone you never knew existed.
  • Appeals to Religion: “Hello Beloved in the Lord” or “Yours in Christ” seeks to create a bond with those who deeply believe in God.
  • Misuse of English: Mis-spellings and faulty grammar usually denote someone—probably a foreigner—using English as a second language. Examples: Run-on sentences; “you’re” for “your”; “except” instead of “accept”; “Dear Beneficial” instead of “Dear Beneficiary.”
  • Appeals to Sympathy: “My husband just died” or “I am dying of cancer.” This is to make you feel sorry for the sender and lower your guard as an intended victim.
  • Use of Important Titles/Organizations: “Director,” ‘Barrister,” “Secretary General of the United Nations,” “Police Inspector.” This is to impress recipients and convince them that the email comes from a trusted and legitimate organization.
  • Request for Personal Information: This includes some combination of: Name / Address / Telephone Number / Bank Name / Bank Account Number / Fax Number / Driver’s License Number / Occupation / Sex / Beneficiary / Passport Number
  • Claims of Deposit: “We have deposited the check of your fund to your account” is a typical line to instantly grab your attention. Someone you’ve never heard of claims he has just put a huge amount of money into an account you know nothing about. Nor can you access it unless you first pay a “contact fee.”
  • The “Bank” is in Africa: Unless you know you have relatives there, this should be a dead giveaway to a scam. Africa is a continent kept alive by the charity of other nations. It’s not in the business of doling out large sums of money to Westerners.
  • Overseas Phone Numbers: If you call these, you’ll have a huge bill. So many people skip calling and just send the money “required” to receive their “cash prize.”
  • Highly Personal Requests: Asking you—someone they’ve never met—to assume the burden of acting as the executor of their “Last Will and Testament.”
  • Love Scams: The scammer poses as a man or woman—usually outside the United States—seeking love. A series of emails flows back and forth for days/weeks, until the scammer says s/he will be glad to fly to the United States to be yours. All you have to do is put up the money for the flight cost.
  • “Make Money From Home”: With most employers refusing to hire, “work from home” scams promise a way to support yourself and your family. You’re required to provide bank information or pay an up-front “registration fee.” Then you wait for job orders—that never come.
  • Debt Relief: Scammers promise to relieve most or all of your debt—for a large up-front fee. You pay the fee—and are not only out of that money but still in debt.
  • Home Repair Schemes: Huge down payments are required for home repairs that never happen.
  • “Free” Trial Offers: The service or product is free for awhile, but you must opt out later to avoid monthly billings.
  • The Email Claims to Be From the FBI: The FBI is an investigative agency responsible to the U.S. Department of Justice. It does not resolve financial disputes or secure monies for “deserving” recipients. If the FBI contacts you, it does so by letter or sending agents to your address. 
  • “I Need Help”: You get an email claiming to be from someone you know—who’s “in jail here in Mexico” or some other foreign country. S/he begs you to send money for bail or bribes to win his/her freedom. If you get such an email, call the person to make certain. Don’t rush to send money—chances are it will go directly to a scammer.

FBI Headquarters

There are several commonsense rules to follow in protecting yourself from online scammers:

  • Don’t trust people you’ve never met to want to give you money.
  • Shop online only with well-known merchants who have a good reputation.
  • Don’t click on unknown links—especially those in emails from unknown senders.
  • If you’re required to pay an advance fee—“on faith”—to receive a big amount of money, the odds are it’s a scam.
  • If you can’t find any solid information on a company, chances are it doesn’t exist.
  • For additional information on how to protect yourself from cybercrime, check out the FBI’s page at https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/cyber.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, the odds are: It is untrue.

THE RICH (LIKE THE PLAGUE) ARE WITH YOU ALWAYS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 21, 2020 at 12:07 am

The gap between rich and poor in the United States has never been greater.

A May 1, 2018 article in Forbes—which bills itself as “The Capitalist Tool”—vividly documents this truth.

“In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker. Last year, [2017] CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year, according to an AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch news release today.”

The average CEO pay climbed six percent in 2017—while the average production worker earned just $38,613, according to Executive Paywatch.

The average wage—adjusted for inflation—has stagnated for more than 50 years. Meanwhile, CEOs’ average pay since the 1950s has risen by 1000%.

This would not have been news to Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science. In his masterwork, The Discourses, he observed the human condition as that of constant struggle: 

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

“It was a saying of ancient writers, that men afflict themselves in evil, and become weary of the good, and that both these dispositions produce the same effects. 

“For when men are no longer obliged to fight from necessity, they fight from ambition, which passion is so powerful in the hearts of men that it never leaves them, no matter to what height they may rise.    

“The reason for this is that nature has created men so that they desire everything, but are unable to attain it. Desire being thus always greater than the faculty of acquiring, discontent with what they have and dissatisfaction with themselves result from it. 

“This causes the changes in their fortunes—for as some men desire to have more, while others fear to lose what they have, enmities and war are the consequences. And this brings about the ruin of one province and the elevation of another.”

Author Walter Scheidel, Dickason Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Classics and History at Stanford University, has also given this subject a great deal of thought. And, like Machiavelli, he has reached some highly disturbing conclusions.

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Walter Scheidel

World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Scheidel gave voice to these in his 2017 book, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century. His thesis: Only violence and catastrophes have consistently reduced inequality throughout history

According to the book’s jacket blurb: “Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes.

“Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return.

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“The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

“Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality.

“The ‘Four Horsemen’ of leveling—mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich….

“Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.”

Revolutionaries have known the truth of Scheidel’s findings from the gladiators’ revolt of Spartacus (73 – 71 B.C.) to the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) to the overthrow of the Czarist Romanov dynasty (1917).

But American politicians serenely ignore that truth. They depend on the mega-rich for millions of dollars in “campaign contributions”—which pay for self-glorifying ads on TV.

Thus, in 2016, American voters had a “choice” between two “love-the-rich” Presidential candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The result was that millions stayed home or voted in protest for third-party candidates who had no chance of winning.

In his 1975 book, The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Modern-day America, British historian Robert Payne warned that the predatory rich would not change their behavior: “Nor is there any likelihood that the rich will plow back their money into services to ensure the general good.

“They have rarely demonstrated social responsibility, and they are much more likely to hold on to their wealth at all costs than to renounce any part of it.

“Like the tyrant who lives in a world wholly remote from the world of the people, shielded and protected from all possible influences, the rich are usually the last to observe the social pressures rising from below, and when these social pressures reach flashpoint, it is too late to call in the police or the army.

“The tyrant dies; the police and the army go over to the revolutionaries; and the new government dispossesses the rich by decree. A single authoritative sentence suffices to expunge all private wealth and restore it to the service of the nation.”

For millions of struggling, impoverished Americans, that day cannot come soon enough.

THE RICH (LIKE THE PLAGUE) ARE WITH YOU ALWAYS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 20, 2020 at 12:10 am

Americans are used to Presidential candidates telling lies (euphemistically known as “campaign promises”) to get elected.

But when a candidate actually (and usually accidentally) tells the truth, the results can be electrifying. 

On June 18, 2019, Democratic Presidential candidate (and momentary front-runner) Joseph Biden addressed a roomful of donors in New York. 

The former Vice President believed that his message would comfort his well-heeled audience of billionaires: Don’t worry, if I’m elected, your standard of living won’t change.

Addressing the 100 or so guests at a fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, Biden said that he had taken heat from “some of the people on my team, on the Democratic side” because he had said that rich people were “just as patriotic as poor people.

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Joe Biden

“The truth of the matter is, you all, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done. We can disagree in the margins but the truth of the matter is it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change,” he said. 

And he added: “I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money.

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“When we have income inequality as large as we have in the United States today, it brews and ferments political discord and basic revolution. Not a joke. Not a joke … It allows demagogues to step in and say the reason where we are is because of the ‘other’….

“You’re not the other. I need you very badly. I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you. I have a bad reputation, I always say what I mean. The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean.”

Biden has talked about decreasing income inequality and promoting workers’ rights. But he’s taken a moderate stance when it comes to taxation.

United States Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), on the other hand, has attacked the ultra-rich as responsible for the ever-widening gap between themselves and the poor.

“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” Biden said in March, 2019.

Instead, he proposes expanding tax credits for the poor and middle class, and making the tax code less friendly to rich investors. 

Robert Payne, the distinguished British historian, took a different—and darker—view of the rich.

Payne authored more than 110 books. Among his subjects were Adolf Hitler, Ivan the Terrible, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, William Shakespeare and Leon Trotsky.

In 1975, he published The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Present-Day America. It proved a summary of many of his previous works.

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Among the epochs it covered: The civilizations of ancient Greece, Rome and China; Nazi Germany; the Soviet Union; and Watergate-era America. And the massive corruption each of those epochs had spawned.

In his chapter, “A View of the Uncorrupted Society,” Payne warned: Power and wealth are the main sources of corruption.

“The rich, simply by being rich, are infected with corruption. Their overwhelming desire is to grow richer, but they can do this only at the expense of those who are poorer than themselves.

”Their interests conflict with those of the overall society. They live sheltered from the constant anxieties of the poor, and thus cannot understand them.  Nor do they try to.

They see the poor as alien from themselves, and thus come to fear and despise them. And their wealth and influence enables them to buy politicians—who, in turn, write legislation that protects the rich from the poor.

But Payne foresaw an even greater danger from the rich and powerful than their mere isolation from the rest of society: “The mere presence of the rich is corrupting. Their habits, their moral codes, their delight in conspicuous consumption are permanent affronts to the rest of humanity. Vast inequalities of wealth are intolerable in any decent society.”

Writing in 1975, Payne noted that a third of the private wealth was possessed by less than five percent of the population—while about a fifth of the populace lived at the poverty level. By 2000, he predicted, about five percent of the population would possess two-thirds of America’s wealth. And more than half the population would be near or below the starvation level. 

The result could only be catastrophe. The only way to halt this this increasing concentration of wealth by fewer people would be through law or violent revolution.

Payne has proven to be an uncanny prophet.

On December 8, 2017, the Seattle Times noted that the wealthiest one percent of Americans owned 40% of the country’s wealth. They owned more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. 

From 2013, the share of wealth owned by the one percent increased by nearly three percentage points. Wealth owned by the bottom 90%, meanwhile, fell over the same period.

But this situation need not remain permanent.

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