Michal Lewis’ new book “The Premonition” couldn’t be more newsworthy. Through the stories of three individuals who worked in the public health system, Lewis makes plain just how we ended up with a dysfunctional CDC at a time of a global pandemic.
In an interview with Nicolle Wallace of MSNBC (5/12/21) Lewis notes that we should question whether any of our government is best run by political appointees. The CDC went from an institution run by experts to a home for those who needed to be politically rewarded.
Lewis also notes that there are characteristics of our economic system that made us unable to respond adequately to a crisis, in this case the pandemic, but the problems would be there in any crisis.
Lewis notes that the for-profit system is so entrenched in the society that we are unable to avail ourselves of solutions even when they present themselves unless they exist within the for-profit world.
He tells a story of a non-profit testing lab. When the owners of the lab saw that the CDC was not going to be able to adequately test people for COVID, it developed its own test and tried to give it away for free. But, accepting a free testing service was problematic for some. In one case, the agency approached could not use the free testing because its computer system could not accept any entry that had a $0 for the price.
The testing lab went to San Quentin prison and warned them that if no testing was done in such a confined institution, the result was likely to be a disaster. Those in charge initially accepted the testing but then quickly backed out. When asked why, those in charge explained that they already had established contracts with big testing labs and they were afraid that accepting another test would infringe on their contracts or at the very least, make the big testing firms angry.
The testing provided by the big labs was more cumbersome and took more time. The result, prisoners were transferred into the facility with COVID and twenty people died. Twenty people died needlessly because the big labs needed to make money off their monopoly control over testing at San Quentin.
As Lewis points out there are risks in the social environment that only the government can manage. If we hollow out the ability of the state to manage these risks we do so at our own peril. People like Ted Cruz may be able to fly off to another country and stay in a sealed community, but the rest of us can’t.
Lewis also notes that the entire structure of incentives for health care is defective. There are, for example, no incentives for preventive medicine.
It has been days since I have watched corporate TV news. I have been reading, writing, painting and binge-watching Dickens, Trollope, and Austen on Amazon Prime.
Every time I turn on the corporate news I find CNN hosts interviewing other CNN hosts about their new books. On MSNBC, I find people like Jason “Island of misfit black girls” Johnson, pontificating and acting like he’s something other than a vicious attack dog there to repeatedly blame the progressives in the Democratic Party for all the failures of the party establishment.
Morning Joe has turned into a prayer meeting with Joe Scarborough spending whole segments lecturing viewers on what a “true Christian” is. This is the news? Mika Brzezinski relentlessly promotes her “know your worth” marketing/money making strategy. She actually seems to think that people are going to believe this from a woman who “knew her worth” to such an extent she had an adulterous affair and then married her boss. She defers to him, babies him, allows herself to be regularly demeaned, interrupted and ridiculed by him. This is women knowing their worth.
In the afternoons, former Senator Claire MacCaskill has taken obsequious behavior to new heights, fawning over Nicolle Wallace at every turn, baking cakes for Wallace and lighting candles on the cake while lauding Wallace’s journalism. This is the news?
MacCaskill does this while the other members of the panel (including the other prime ass-kisser, Jason Johnson) clap their hands like school children. It is just nauseating.
There is no, no international news anymore on either CNN or MSNBC. The amount of information being communicated is almost nil. It’s like a televised circle-jerk, reporters interviewing other reporters, promoting each other’s books or (worse still) interviewing members of Congress, as if any member of congress is going to say anything either interesting or informative. There are only a handful of people in the entire Congress who say ANYTHING that is not a collection of focus-group tested nonsense.
The corporate media is, in short, like a toy my friend told me she bought her grandson a couple of years ago. I couldn’t even grasp what she was talking about as she described this gadget. It was a mechanical thing that had no purpose except to move. It was called a “fidget spinner.” The corporate news media is an intellectual fidget spinner – words and words and words and interview after interview after interview filling up space, for no reason except to make money for somebody and create the impression that things are under control. As Scarborough says the “institutions are holding.”
Meanwhile, the institutions are not holding. The criminal enterprise that was the Trump administration has gone without accountability or punishment, and will continue to do so. The legal system works to prosecute, hold accountable, and punish only the poor. We are repeatedly treated to an orgy of spectacle creating the impression that the powerful will be held accountable only to watch the whole sorry exercise collapse.
The Supreme Court which has sold democracy down the tubes with decisions such as Citizens’ United, is poised to further structure the legal system to favor the wealthy and powerful. The Congress is afraid of its shadow. If the Biden administration does not do away with the filibuster, alter the Supreme Court, fight for ordinary Americans, and ensure election fairness and security, the Trump/McConnell crime family will be back in power partially in two years, and totally in four.
All you have to do it look at the flood of voter suppression laws that have been passed in Georgia and other states to see that Republicans are going to make sure that the Democrats lose control of the Congress in 2022 and the presidency in 2024. They are circling like sharks. All four years of Trump did for them was to give them the smell of blood and demonstrate how easily they could turn this into an authoritarian Christian nationalist state.
Meanwhile, Ari Melber makes jokes, quotes banal rap lyrics (of sexist rap stars) like they were great literature and/or philosophy and interviews celebrities, barely keeping himself from peeing his pants with glee at his proximity to fame. It is all just really disgusting.
And, then there’s today. A 21-year-old man has murdered eight women and was on his way to murder more. But, as the Georgia Sheriff’s office spokesman said, he “had a bad day.” There are so many things wrong with this story and the coverage of it and the people involved, I don’t know where to begin.
I feel like my mother when she first started watching the O.J. Simpson trial. She watched for a couple of hours. “What do you think?” I said. “I think they should all be put in prison now,” she replied getting up in disgust to go and read. “Who?” I asked. “All of them.” She said. “Simpson, the judge, the prosecutors, the defense attorneys, the reporters, all of them.” She was, of course, right.
That’s precisely what I feel about everybody involved in this murder case in Atlanta.
The Georgia Sheriff and CNN are talking about “sex addiction” as if sex addiction was something real. Law enforcement, politicians and the corporate media are actually mouthing the ludicrous sex equivalent of the “Twinkie Defense” for this Long guy. The Cherokee Sheriff’s office guy, Baker, found it his responsibility to provide an excuse for a man who walked into businesses that employ women (at starvation wages) to cater to the perverted pleasures of men and murder them. What is this Baker, Long’s defense attorney? Official law enforcement provides a narrative for the future jury pool excusing this man because of his “sex addiction.”
“Sex addiction?” There is no such thing as a sex addiction. It’s a fake con devised by the rehabilitation industry to make money. No serious person would even allow those two words together to come out of their mouth. A male reporter on CNN said that the young man “had issues.” ISSUES?////// ISSUES?????????
He hates women, that’s the issue, he hates and despises women and has racist exploitive sexual fantasies about them that he felt entitled to act out. It has nothing to do with addiction. Long is not mentally ill, that we know of. He is just the same kind of oppressive, abusive, exploitive, violent bastard that this culture turns out by the millions. He’s just like Donald Trump, Jeffrey Epstein, that old man who used to be a comedian who doped and then raped women (I’m 70. I can’t remember his f…ing name), Weinstein, Cuomo, and God knows how many more.
But, we can’t talk about that. We can’t talk about a culture that makes the hatred of women fundamental, trades in the commodification of women’s bodies at every turn, provides a market for sexual perversion of every sort and then blames the impoverished women who are forced to participate in it for their own destruction at the hands of the very men they are forced to service.
This guy “had a bad day.” That’s what Baker, the Sheriff’s Office guy, said. He had a “bad day” and “issues” and “a sexual addiction.” No, the women who were killed and their families had a bad day, a tragic day. This guy acted out his violent racist sexual perversions, violent sexual perversions that are fed every day by the media and the entertainment industry and politics.
In this unique collection of over 50 essays, “The Sickness is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us from Pandemics or Itself,” Richard D. Wolff argues clearly that “returning to normal” no longer responds adequately to the accumulated problems of US capitalism. What is necessary, instead, is transition toward a new economic system that works for all of us.
“The Sickness is the System” is published by Democracy at Work. Professor Wolff generously donated his time and work so that all sales revenue could go to support d@w. This book is now available as a paperback.
The corporate news media is a vast wasteland, a mental fidget-spinner of trite nonsense. It’s purpose, as far as I can tell, is to keep the lid on, to convince the population that the “institutions are holding,” and to stupify the public into believing that nothing is really wrong.
There is the endlessly repeated both-sidesism enmeshed in the discussion of every topic. Tonight, for example, in covering the allegations that DeSantis, Governor of Florida, participated in making it possible for rich campaign donors to skip the line on vaccines, Ari Melber felt it was necessary to show photographs of Cuomo and note for the audience that the show also covered Democrats who were accused of wrongdoing.
And, there are the jokes, the uplifting People Magazine stories, the fashioning of narrative to make heroes out of every person who just behaves with normal human decency.
Essentially, the corporate news media is a waste of time.
But, there are other places to go for news. There are more podcasts than one person can listen to in a lifetime, and there are a few TV channels. Freespeech TV is one of them.
Richard Wolff hosts a program called Economic Update. There are no guests, no video clips, no commercials. The program is adult news, discussion.
These are notes on the episode from 3/3/21
History Lessons on Capitalism’s Failures
• Even if you argue that the present economic system works in normal times, it certainly has not worked in a crisis like the pandemic.
• Freemarket capitalism produced no warehouses of supplies (masks, ventilators) waiting to be distributed . There were no facilities in population centers stocked with testing equipment. There was no plan for dealing with the dislocations that a pandemic would cause. There’s no money, no profit in it.
• Private enterprise isn’t going to provide a plan or products, or logistics for dealing with a pandemic before it happens. Only government can do that.
• The signs the system isn’t up to the job of dealing with a crisis are everywhere. Take, for example rising food prices. The evidence is that globally food prices are increasing. Private enterprise is not going to function to ensure the distribution of food in a pandemic. Secondly, under the current system of capitalism, the eviction crisis will only exacerbate the pandemic problem. In a pandemic people need to stay at home, but with evictions uncontrolled by the government, that’s exactly what we will not get. Thirdly, only 5% of private schools are having internet learning due to the pandemic. Private schools can afford to take measures to ensure safety. They can have smaller classes, move people to other buildings. 65% of public schools, however, are not meeting students. They are forced into distance learning. The students on the bottom of the economic scale are taking the hit of the pandemic.
• As Richard Wolff notes, the problems are so evident that the question is really: “Why are there people not understanding this still?”
• Wolff goes on to discuss the settlement of a criminal case against Boeing in which the company that makes most of the planes we travel in, was allowed to pay its way out of criminal prosecution for $2.5 billion dollars. Boeing, the settlement said, lied and put “profit before candor.” But, in a capitalist society, profit is put before everything. The people who run Boeing make careers from profit, not from candor.
Those relying on the U.S. justice system to hold the Trump administration accountable for the crime spree that was the past four years, need to consider the record of the Justice Department in prosecuting corporate and white collar criminals. Let’s just start with one case.
In January of 2021, the Justice Department allowed Boeing to resolve a criminal charge “related to a conspiracy to defraud” the government in connection with the FAA’s evaluation of Boeing’s 737 MAX airplane.
Boeing needed FAA approval for the planes and FAA was charged with developing safety protocols for them. Employees of Boeing, however, placing “profit over candor” deceived the government by withholding important information from the regulatory agency, information which might have delayed approval or necessitated increased training for the use of the planes.
These employees continued to withhold the information and participate in a conspiracy to cover up the withholding, even after the first disastrous crash of the Boeing 737 MAX in 2018.
In 2018, Loin Air Flight 610 crashed near Indonesia. 189 passengers and crew were killed. In March 2019 Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, crashed near Ejere Ethiopia. All 157 passengers and crew died. In March 2019 the plane involved, the 737 MAX, was officially grounded.
No individuals were charged in the federal criminal information filed against a company, Boeing, and no individuals were punished. Boeing was allowed to buy itself out of prosecution.
The agreement accepted by the Justice Department was a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), one of many the Department of Justice enters into with corporations every year. According to “The Chikenshit Club” by Jesse Eisinger (one of the most underestimated books in the past decade) from 2002 until the Fall of 2016, the Justice Department entered into 416 such agreements. In the previous 10 years, they had participated in 18.
These DPAs take the place of prosecutions. They are easier for the Justice Department (require less resources and risk of losing), allow the Department to claim victories and tout what appear to be large fines. And, the NPAs are much less painful for the corporation. The fines are usually tiny compared with resources of the corporation, and they rarely involve individuals.
So even though individuals at Boeing made decision after decision to deceive the regulatory agency the public depends on to ensure flying safety, they were not named and not prosecuted. They were allowed to hide behind a NPA that resulted in a fine paid by Boeing.
DPAs are similar to plea bargains. But, unlike plea bargains, they are not lowered charges in exchange for a guilty plea. It is a prosecution that has been deferred, not brought. Boeing has not been prosecuted for a crime, and can claim so. It has been allowed to buy itself out of prosecution.
Every criminal in every court in the country (except the innocent ones) would love to be allowed to pay a small sum in order not to be prosecuted for the crime s/he committed. They are almost never afforded this opportunity.
Ordinary criminal defendants (the poor) are almost always required to plead guilty to a crime in order to secure a more lenient sentence. The poor defendant is subject to the stigma of criminal prosecution, the economic costs. These companies, however, are allowed to negotiate a settlement that doesn’t even include prosecution, or necessarily an admission of guilt.
In this case, Boeing agreed to a settlement, a bribe, in order not to be prosecuted for deceiving the government by withholding crucial information about one of its planes from those charged with developing safety protocols, information that might well have prevented two crashes and the loss of over 400 lives.
Boeing, a company, a legal fiction, is held responsible for its’ employees behavior. Those employees who participated in this conspiracy, knowing that it would endanger lives for profit, are left free to be promoted, or leave the company and get jobs working elsewhere, committing more crimes.
The FAA is one of the agencies administering regulations about how corporations function. Republicans have spent the past forty years fighting against every regulation of industry, starving regulatory agencies of funds, and demonizing them in the eyes of the public they were designed to protect.
When a white collar or corporate criminal is caught, they are allowed to hide behind their “company” and evade responsibility.
If you want to know what Republicans stand for, this is it – free, unfettered, unaccountable fraud against the American people for profit.
Free Speech TV: Economic Update with Richard Wolff, History Lessons on Capitalism’s Failures, 3/2/21.
The Republicans are turning a massive failure of infrastructure and privatization in Texas into a condemnation of renewable energy. Even the Governor of the State is on national television spewing lies and disinformation.
Gov. Greg Abbott, on Fox News, said that the problem was caused by renewable energy systems.
Officials were told in 2011 that they needed to winterize the Texas system. But, the State of Texas didn’t make that winterization and other changes obligatory. Because the grid is operated by private companies, allowed to make as much profit as they can, the State failed to winterize and now we are watching people lose their lives.
Message #1: Don’t elect people to run government that don’t believe in government.
In the 2016 Democratic Primary, Bernie Sanders won all 55 countries in West Virginia. In the general election, however, Trump took 68.5 percent of the vote . This was his largest share of the vote in any state.
By the time of the 2020 Democratic primary, Sanders had suspended his campaign (after the DNC annointed Joe Biden).
Trump won 69 percent of the vote opposing Biden.
West Virginia is the poorest state in the nation.
The state is characterized by an opioid epidemic.
The death rate in recent years from drug overdose has exceeded any other state.
The cancer rates in the state are high.
The southern part of the state has been turned into a toxic waste dump by coal companies.
West Virginia is a “resource colony” and displays the consequent devastation in the environment and the health of the people living there.
So, why in a state characterized by such poverty, illness and exploitation did people vote for Trump?
Big Coal has orchestrated a decades old long propaganda campaign to convince people who should know better that big coal is their friend.
People identify with big coal and express pride when they, for example, develop black lung disease. The disease demonstrates that they have worked hard all their lives to keep the “lights on” in America.
If evidence comes to light of the egregious exploitation of big coal, people write it off as “bad companies.” These companies are the “bad apples” but not the harvest.
West Virginians have been separated from their own radical past through the suppression of information about actions such as the 1921 armed uprising on Blair Mountain., where miners took on the coal industry.
So, coal and fracking continue to result in environmental and health damage.
People in West Virginia believed Bernie Sanders would do something about changing the conditions of their lives. They, however, did not believe that the corporate Democrats (Clinton an Biden) would.
147 Republican members of Congress voted against seating Joe Biden’s electors. They moved against accepting the votes of the people in this country based on no evidence that there was a significant problem with the voting system.
These 147 Republican members of Congress did not win, but they tried to. There are not 147 Trumps. These people are Republicans. They are Republicans who do not support democracy. But, as of today, they are all still in Congress.
Just like all the other outrages of the Trump administration, the fact that 147 members of Congress tried to throw out the results of an election, is being normalized. Corporate news anchors are repeatedly asking representatives of the Biden administration how they can claim to seek “unity” when they are proposing legislation that differs from (what purports to be) the Republican agenda.
The past four years has been difficult, nerve wracking, infuriating, but since the nomination of Biden, it has been even more infuriating. It is perhaps a bit less stressful since I don’t wake up every morning dreading to find out what the president has done while I was asleep, but the Democrats and the corporate media seen to have learned nothing, NOTHING from the last four years.
The Democrats have not learned how to run against the Republicans, and the corporate media (in the face of an insurrection) is still indulging in mindless bothsidesism.
When Trump was in office, it seemed like a frontal assault, every day. Now, I have the feeling that the corporate media is playing music while people are relentlessly creeping up behind me.
Unlike many of the people I know, I feel no relief with the election of Biden. The Democrats are still talking about “unity” and “bipartisanship” with people who have demonstrated that they want to destroy democracy to maintain their power. It’s like watching a government negotiate, trying to win over the Naxi party. It is enraging and it is terrifying.
While the Democrats waltz around congratulating each other for representational appointments, the Republicans are seizing 2022.
In Georgia, Warnock is up for reelection in 2022. We don’t have six years with Warnock, we have less than two. We have to do this again. We have to drag out a win in what is essentially a red state, and we have to do it in a circumstance where the state government is already actively working to eliminate as many potential voters as possible.
In Georgia, Republicans have proposed steps to make it harder to vote by mail and easier to throw out legally cast ballots. The same Republicans who the corporate media celebrated – Kemp, Raffensperger, Sterling – are beavering away to purge voters from the rolls and make it more difficult for people to vote.
What people need to remember is that Kemp, Raffensperger and Sterling went along with every Trump inspired move to suppress voting except put themselves in criminal jeopardy by changing votes. They are like the gang members who were perfectly willing to drive the get away car, but not willing to go into the liquor store with the gun.
They will be even more willing to drive the car now because they are trying to get back into the good graces, and the donations, of right-wing supporters.
Across the Country
Emily Singer (1/22/21) is reporting in the Independent that efforts to make it harder to vote are going on in most of the GOP-controlled state legislatures. They are introducing legislation to make voter registration and voting by mail more difficult.
These voter suppression moves have been practiced by the Republicans for decades, but picked up steam especially after Biden’s win in 2020. Republicans are daily pointing out the dangers of what they see as “voter fraud” and legitimating moves to keep people from voting in the name of eliminating “voter fraud.”
In Montana, the state House began hearings on a bill which would eliminate same-day voter registration. This is what the SOS refers to as “election integrity.” These measures are expected and intended to affect the voting of Native Americans and students. Both groups vote Democratic by a wide margin.
In New Hampshire, the GOP-controlled House started hearings on a bill that would repeal same-day registration and putt barriers to students who want to vote. Students must, if the bill is passed, prove that they qualify for in-state tuition before registering to vote. Republicans passed a similar law ahead of the 2020 election which required students to become permanent residents to vote. This law was struck down by a judge.
In Arizona, a GOP-run legislature is weighing getting rid of the state’s Permanent Early Vote List, which allows residents to register to receive mail-in ballots automatically. They are also working to impose restrictions on recounts and add other burdens to discourage people from voting.
In Pennsylvania, a Republican state senator introduced a bill that would eliminate no-excuse absentee voting.
In Mississippi, a Republican state senator proposed a bill which would lock Mississippi from releasing vote totals in presidential elections until after all states had cast their votes in the Electoral College.
Democrats in the House are working to pass H.R.1, which would require states to implement automatic voter registration and limit their ability to purge voters from the rolls. An identical bill passed the House in 2019, but McConnell blocked it from getting a vote.
So, Democrats are trying to make it easier for people to vote. Republicans, who realize they cannot win if there is a popular vote, are working furiously to purge voting lists and make it more difficult for people to vote.
One Party is advocating and working for democracy. The other party is fighting against it. You choose.
This is by far the best podcast out there. I know the corporate media is seductive, but your time would be better spent giving this a listen. Sam Seder puts together some of the most interesting and pertinent interviews available.
“Sam hosts writer and political analyst Jared Yates Sexton to discuss his new book, American Rule: How a Nation Conquered the World But Failed Its People, and why the foundational myths of American Exceptionalism have such a hold on the populace.
Sam and Jared explore the stories Americans told themselves throughout the country’s history, from how the process behind writing the Constitution to how the “Mound Builders” stories helped justify indigenous Americans’ slaughter. The two consider how these stories have shaped the populace’s thinking and why it’s essential to reject politics as a spectacle.
“Six days after President Donald Trump lost his bid for reelection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture notified food safety groups that it was proposing a regulatory change to speed up chicken factory processing lines, a change that would allow companies to sell more birds. An earlier USDA effort had broken down on concerns that it could lead to more worker injuries and make it harder to stop germs like salmonella.”
This is what Republicans stand for. There’s no reason to ask why Republicans “went along” with Trump. They didn’t go along, they happily colluded with him because he delivered policy changes that they had advocated for decades.
A discussion of politics, law, justice, and crime.