Journal of the Plague Year (#9)

Berkeley, CA, May 18, 2020 – With the still largely undefined and unvanquished coronavirus continuing to ravage the world to an unknown degree, the spotlight now seems to be shifting to another unknown, undefined, and unvanquished phenomenon. Money.

Massive budget deficits are projected for just about every national, state, international and local jurisdiction. Revenues are way down because people are not buying very much other than supposed essentials. People are buying not much of anything because they mostly lack money to do so. The instrumental ability to spend money has advanced well beyond people’s ability to back up their expenditures with…deposits! 

The federal government isn’t blinking as flood waters rise. There is talk – just talk so far – about cancelling some of the massive, totally unnecessary death culture abundance. Aircraft carriers. Nuclear weapons “modernizations.” Research into killing by the oxymoronic “artificial intelligence.” All go blithely on. How far on? We are, of course, not allowed to know that. After all, it’s only our money! 

In an unusually oblique article even for its always superficial, laconic coverage of the military/industrial playground, the NY Times tells us that “cuts in the National Counterterrorism Center will amount to “about 15 percent of the work force.” And how many people and dollars might that be? “The precise size of the National Counterterrorism Center is classified,” we’re told.

Scurry, if you will, to that entity’s website. You will find an impressive pile of gobbledygook. The Center coordinates, disseminates. Investigates. Produces studies. None of which we’re privy to. Although the abundant hackers, governmental staff and freelancers who work on such things no doubt see them. And no doubt realize that some of what they’re seeing is “false flag.” Meaning plausibly framed and stated documents meant to misdirect and ill-inform whoever comes upon them. So our government then has to have another level (or two, or five, or a million) one of which is genuine. Or a composite can be made that’s genuine. Dizzy yet? 

Senators Shelly Moore Capito, the West Virginia Republican chair, and Jon Tester, the Montana ranking minority member of the Senate’s Department of Homeland Security Committee might, or at least could, know what’s real. And how much taxpayer money is spent creating “information.” Or perhaps the Senators who head at least five other Senate committees with apparent jurisdiction in the “national security” area might or could know these things.

But an hour or so spent by a “civilian” (me) looking around the internet reveals scant items on the subject. Or on the legislative bodies and legislators involved, who confine their rare remarks to bellicosity and “patriotism.” There is some amusing (you get your tiny slice of amusement where you can in this domain) press release traffic back and forth about the Texas Congressman, John Ratcliffe, who, without any relevant experience or skills, is being nominated to head the agency. Replacing a temporary chair who could not continue to “serve” because he wasn’t confirmed by the Senate, and his appointment – which lasted a year – expires without confirmation. 

Ratcliffe

One journalist who – bless him! – is trying to swim through the sewage is David Graham in The Atlantic. Ratcliffe, Graham relates, was previously proposed by Trump, but had his nomination withdrawn “after it became clear that Ratcliffe had practically no qualifications for the job, and those he did have were badly misrepresented.” 

However, this week, Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins, who has an undeserved reputation of standing up to Trump, said she’d support Ratcliffe’s nomination in committee. Meaning he’s likely to go to the full Senate for a vote. Meaning he’ll be confirmed.

Among Ratcliffe’s inadequate qualifications are his career as an anti-immigrant pro-religion, pro-gun, anti reproductive choice elected and appointed official in Texas government. Like so many anti-democratic House Republicans, he got elected because of a particularly egregious gerrymandering of Congressional districts back in 2003. Done seemingly illegally by then House leader Tom Delay (who resigned from Congress in 1996 after damaging reports of financial irregularities) the redistricting was ruled legal by the Supreme Court in 1996, and helped produce a radical shift in the Texas House delegation from 17-15 Democratic to 21-11 Republican. 

There is no indication on Committee Chair Capito’s capacious web site that she has anything to say about any of her theoretical responsibilities on the Terrorism Subcommittee. There is nothing specific on ranking Democratic Senator Tester’s pages that would indicate he has anything to say about his responsibilities. Ditto their equivalent members in the House, where there are no fewer than sixteen committees and subcommittees with dozens and dozens of members working on some element of presumed threats to all of us. Add staff and consultants and you’re well into the hundreds.

The phrase “billions of dollars” is an indigestible one for most people. But if we knew say, the cost of one “modernized” missile versus what it would it would cost to provide face masks for each and every citizen? Might, we then as the saying goes, have our consciousnesses raised? Estimates for the weapons are in the $500 billion - $1.2 trillion range. You can get a package of 100 masks for $15 or less. Do the mask math!

Test, track, isolate. Generally considered to be what works in battling COVID-19. Relatively easy to understand as concepts. But it can get relatively complicated real fast – such as when you hear that a leading medical manufacturer is promoting a standardized coronavirus test that has a failure rate preliminarily estimated at 48%, according to independent evaluators. That manufacturer, Abbott Laboratories, with annual sales of around $30 billion, estimates the test failure rate is .002%.

Hello? Senator Capito? Hello, Senator Tester? Watcha got on this?

It gets worse, as it always seems to. Now the bad includes someone who hitherto has been held up as part of the good. The anti-Trump. Not given to bragging or lying or confused syntax, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo would seem to be on the side of the hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 victims. Now turns out that he is one of a number of governors who have signed legislation that would bar victims of medical malpractice in nursing homes from suing for damages in nearly all cases. “Liability protections for healthcare providers such as hospitals and skilled nursing and assisted living providers and their employees in emergent circumstances are quite common as these limited protections allow providers and staff to focus on the provision of necessary care while constantly adjusting to ever changing rules and orders associated with the COVID-19 public health emergency,” Stephen B. Hanse, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association, an industry group, told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Cue the research team bursting at the starting line to start finding out if there’s any corollary between the $37 million raised by Governor Cuomo in the last election cycle and the $27 million spent on legislative lobbying by nursing home groups like Hanse’s. Ready, guys and gals? GO! (See last week’s essay in this series, “Journal of the Plague Year #8” for a personal tale of nursing home horrors.)

And if you want to drill down more locally for a tale of budget misallocation in times of scarcity, how about a look at the Alameda County Supervisors’ vote last week to add $106 million to the county Sheriff’s office budget? At a time when the county is facing a $72 million deficit in its $3.1 billion budget? It’s supposed to help with the notoriously poor mental health care of inmates. But – a sheriff’s office? Mental health? Surely it should be a priority for society. But is that what a sheriff is trained to do? The gun and badge and all that – is this cosplay or what? The now generally accepted understanding that too many people are being locked up for too long for flimsy reasons – does this not apply right here in our own backyard?

And now – what was the cost of those masks, again?

Mental health, by the way, is notoriously neglected in our health care non-system. And if the impact of the coronavirus is having a psychological impact on you or someone(s) close to you, get ready for that to get worse as well. A just released study done at San Diego State and Florida State universities says that “more than one in four U.S. adults now meet the criteria that psychologists use to diagnose serious mental stress and illness. This is a 700 percent increase over just two years ago.” Rising depression and suicide rates can be expected. (Time Magazine, “How is COVID-19 affecting our mental health?” 5/25/2020)

Recent Headlines:

“Places without social distancing have 35 times more potential coronavirus spread, study says” 

“Trump sets goal of millions of coronavirus vaccine doses by January, but scientists doubt it.”

“Trump Jr. Posts Baseless Claim About Biden.”

“New Cases in U.S. Slow, Posing Risk of Complacency. Spikes Feared as the Very Steps That Curbed Virus Are Lifted”

“Burnout Smolders Among Medical Workers.”

“As Neighboring Countries Closed, Sweden Stayed Open. A Deadly Month Shows How Risky That Was.”

“Why Bombs Made in America Kill Civilians in Yemen.”

“America’s Cities Could House Everyone if They Chose To.”

“Health or wealth? GOP’s economic focus might win.”

“Reviving an Agenda, DeVos Funnels Relief to Private and Religious Schools.”

“As Virus Hit New York, the Rich Hit the Road.”

“Fit Some Fun Into Your Week.”

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