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Walter Mondale Sent A Touching Farewell Message Two Days Before His Death!

Dear Commons Community,

Former Vice President Walter Mondale died yesterday at the age of 93.  Two days before his death, he sent a touching message to his staff (see above).

“Well my time has come,” wrote Mondale in his Saturday message. “I am eager to rejoin Joan and Eleanor.” 

His late wife, Joan, died in 2014 at the age of 83, while his late daughter, Eleanor, died of brain cancer in 2011 at the age of 51. 

May he rest in peace!

Tony

Video: Brianna Keilar Debut on CNN Morning Show – Blasts Fox “is not news”

Dear Commons Community,

Brianna Keilar debuted yesterday taking over for Alison Camerota as co-anchor for CNN’s New Day morning show.  If you have seen her on CNN’s afternoon program, you know she generally has one segment where she does not hold back in her criticism of politicians, news makers, or the media.  During a segment yesterday morning,  she gave a blunt blistering assessment of how Fox News uses its on-screen graphics to spread misinformation.

“Fox in the era of President Joe Biden is a carousel of conspiracy theories and fearmongering. So really what I’m saying is not much has changed….But the chyrons, those headlines you see at the bottom of your screen? They are getting noticeably more creative.”” said Keilar (see video above)

She accused the right-wing network of using those graphics to push disinformation about Biden being senile and adding question marks to the end of its untrue messages as a “fig leaf for a conspiracy theory.”

“Other Fox banners imply that Biden basically belongs in a home, and one of their main experts literally called in from his retirement home in Florida. Another is this guy, the infamous Fox doc they have on to give a, quote, ‘virtual medical examination,’ then reaching the evidence-free conclusion Biden is off his rocker, pushes the conspiracy theory he is a puppet of a deep state.”

She also called out the network’s “public disservice” throughout the pandemic and its culture war grievances. The network has fomented vaccine hesitancy, cast doubt on public health officials and misled its viewers on scientific facts, all while devoting hours of airtime to non-issues like the fake “cancellation” of Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head.

Brianna is going to bring gusto to CNN’s New Day program.  Watch out Fox & Friends! 

Tony

Alexis McGill Johnson, President of Planned Parenthood: We’re Done Making Excuses for Our Founder – Margaret Sanger!

Book Review: Margaret Sanger - WSJ

Margaret Sanger – Founder of Planned Parenthood

Dear Commons Community,

Alexis McGill Johnson, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times, coming out about whether Margaret Sanger, the Federation’s founder, was a racist. It is a candid piece that states we need to talk about Margaret Sanger and her legacy on race and “raise the question that we’ve tried to avoid, but we no longer can. We must reckon with it.”  Here is an excerpt.

“For the 11 years that I’ve been involved with Planned Parenthood, founded by Margaret Sanger, her legacy on race has been debated. Sanger, a nurse, opened the nation’s first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in 1916, and dedicated her life to promoting birth control to improve women’s lives. But was she, or was she not, racist?

…Up until now, Planned Parenthood has failed to own the impact of our founder’s actions. We have defended Sanger as a protector of bodily autonomy and self-determination, while excusing her association with white supremacist groups and eugenics as an unfortunate “product of her time.” Until recently, we have hidden behind the assertion that her beliefs were the norm for people of her class and era, always being sure to name her work alongside that of W.E.B. Dubois and other Black freedom fighters. But the facts are complicated.

Sanger spoke to the women’s auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan at a rally in New Jersey to generate support for birth control. And even though she eventually distanced herself from the eugenics movement because of its hard turn to explicit racism, she endorsed the Supreme Court’s 1927 decision in Buck v. Bell, which allowed states to sterilize people deemed “unfit” without their consent and sometimes without their knowledge — a ruling that led to the sterilization of tens of thousands of people in the 20th century.

The first human trials of the birth control pill — a project that was Sanger’s passion later in her life — were conducted with her backing in Puerto Rico, where as many as 1,500 women were not told that the drug was experimental or that they might experience dangerous side effects.

We don’t know what was in Sanger’s heart, and we don’t need to in order to condemn her harmful choices. What we have is a history of focusing on white womanhood relentlessly. Whether our founder was a racist is not a simple yes or no question. Our reckoning is understanding her full legacy, and its impact. Our reckoning is the work that comes next.

And the first step is making Margaret Sanger less prominent in our present and future. The Planned Parent Federation of America has already renamed awards previously given in her honor, and Planned Parenthood of Greater New York renamed its Manhattan health center in 2020. Other independently managed affiliates may choose to follow.

Sanger remains an influential part of our history and will not be erased, but as we tell the history of Planned Parenthood’s founding, we must fully take responsibility for the harm that Sanger caused to generations of people with disabilities and Black, Latino, Asian-American, and Indigenous people.

Sanger thought birth control would liberate women, and in so many ways it has. According to a University of Michigan study, the availability of the birth control pill is responsible for roughly a third of women’s wage gains since the 1960s. Reassessing Sanger’s history doesn’t negate her feminist fight, but it does tarnish it. In the name of political expedience, she chose to engage white supremacists to further her cause. In doing that, she devalued and dehumanized people of color.

We will no longer make excuses or apologize for Margaret Sanger’s actions. But we can’t simply call her racist, scrub her from our history, and move on. We must examine how we have perpetuated her harms over the last century — as an organization, an institution, and as individuals.

What we don’t want to be, as an organization, is a Karen. You know Karen: She escalates small confrontations because of her own racial anxiety. She calls the manager. She calls the police. She stands with other white parents to maintain school segregation. And then there are the organizational Karens. The groups who show up, assert themselves, and tell you where to march. Those who pursue freedom and fairness, but also leverage their privilege in ways that are dehumanizing.

And sometimes, that’s how Planned Parenthood has acted. By privileging whiteness, we’ve contributed to America harming Black women and other women of color. And when we focus too narrowly on “women’s health,” we have excluded trans and nonbinary people.

As we face relentless attacks on our ability to keep providing sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion, we’ve claimed the mantle of women’s rights, to the exclusion of other causes that women of color and trans people cannot afford to ignore. And when we are rightfully called out by other leaders in the movement for reproductive justice who have pushed us for years to do better, we cry. In doing so, we’re failing in our mission to care for all the communities we serve.

We are committed to confronting any white supremacy in our own organization, and across the movement for reproductive freedom. We pledge to fight the many types of dehumanization we are seeing right now: the dehumanization of Black and Latino victims of police violence such as Adam Toledo, Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and too many others. The dehumanization of transgender people whose health care and rights are being denied in states across the country, and who face attacks not just from the right but also from trans-exclusionary radical “feminists.”

Some might see this as virtue signaling, but Planned Parenthood is taking this work seriously. Our senior leadership team is diverse. We have invested in training designed to give everyone, from the board room to the exam room, a foundational understanding of how race operates. And we are establishing new diversity, equity and inclusion standards for affiliates seeking to be a part of the Planned Parenthood Federation.

Achieving health equity requires fighting the systemic racism that creates barriers to sexual and reproductive health care. The pandemic has laid bare racial disparities in health care that we also see in who is most affected by increased abortion restrictions and in skyrocketing sexually transmitted disease rates.

As the nation’s leading provider of sexual and reproductive health care with a presence in 50 states, Planned Parenthood has an obligation to change how we operate. We must take up less space, and lend more support. And we must put our time, energy, and resources into fights that advance an agenda other than our own.

Margaret Sanger harmed generations with her beliefs. In our second century, Planned Parenthood has a chance to heal those harms. Reckoning with Margaret Sanger is one thing. We also need to reckon with ourselves.”

Well-done piece, Ms. Johnson!

Tony

Maureen Dowd on the Afghanistan Withdrawal:  Taliban leaders say Americans have all the clocks, but they have all the time!

 

Dear Commons Community,

Maureen Dowd in her column yesterday commented on President Joe Biden’s decision to remove all American troops by September 11, 2021.  She is clear in her appraisal that our troops fought and died in a war that they never could have won.  Yet, despite the lessons the Soviets learned in 10 hard years there fighting ghostly warriors who disappeared into the mountains, American officials and generals never absorbed this simple fact: Even the battles we won, we lost in a way. As we grasped for our own revenge, what kind of revenge quest did we inspire in those who watched daisy cutter bombs rain hellfire or a wedding party disintegrate in a flash from an American airstrike? How many enemies have we spawned trying to help Afghanistan?

Taliban leaders say Americans have all the clocks, but they have all the time.

 I agree with her fully.  As I stated in an earlier post,  Afghanistan is a political and military quagmire that we cannot possibly win. This is no reflection on our military but it is not trained or capable of nation-building, at least not in this part of the world.

Ms. Dowd’s column is below in its entirety.

Tony

—————————————————————————————————-

New York Times

Biden Ditches the Generals, Finally

Maureen Dowd

April 19, 2021

WASHINGTON — Afghanistan has a complicated relationship with time. And America has a complicated relationship with revenge.

Between these two truths, tragedy blossomed.

Awash in grief and anger, we invaded Afghanistan after 9/11 to hunt down Osama bin Laden and punish the Taliban for letting him turn a maze of caves into a launching pad to attack America.

But, despite the lessons the Soviets learned in 10 hard years there fighting ghostly warriors who disappeared into the mountains, American officials and generals never absorbed this simple fact: Even the battles we won, we lost in a way. As we grasped for our own revenge, what kind of revenge quest did we inspire in those who watched daisy cutter bombs rain hellfire or a wedding party disintegrate in a flash from an American airstrike? How many enemies have we spawned trying to help Afghanistan?

Taliban leaders say Americans have all the clocks, but they have all the time.

The Bush administration was arrogant and ignorant about occupying this medieval moonscape. Officials thought they could bomb the bejesus out of the people who hated us, so that they would never look at us cross-eyed again. We would be the swaggering hyperpower. Even Barack Obama, once so prescient on the futility of invading Iraq, was suckered by the military into a pointless surge in Afghanistan, a near tripling of troops, in 2009.

I remember touring Afghanistan and Iraq with Obama’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, at the time, flying over the snow-capped mountains that make Afghanistan a natural fortress and sinkhole for empires. I asked him if the president had been rolled by the generals. “That’s ridiculous,” Gates snapped, adding: “Anybody who reads history has to approach these things with some humility because you can’t know. Nobody knows what the last chapter ever looks like.”

Well, we seem to be at the last chapter, and it looks just as grim as all the other chapters of this misbegotten occupation.

Maureen Dowd: Get an email as soon as Maureen Dowd’s latest column is published.

Even then, it was clear that our attempt to turn Afghanistan and Iraq into model democracies was not going well. Touring those countries, Gates could barely leave the small secured zones.

At a joint news conference with Gates, our corrupt puppet Hamid Karzai needled his American sugar daddies, protesting that America was stuck because Afghanistan would not be able to get its own forces ready for 15 or 20 more years.

We attended a briefing where military leaders talked about “partnering” with and “mentoring” Afghan forces, but they acknowledged that before they could get to security training, they first they had to teach a vast majority of Afghan recruits to read and write.

Gates told reporters he had only just learned the “eye-opener” that the Taliban were attracting so many fighters because they paid more. Generals in Afghanistan said the Taliban were giving fighters $250 to $300 a month, while the Afghan Army was paying about $120. So Gates, employing the American way of throwing more money at a problem, got the recruits a raise to $240.

And this pathetic bidding war with the Taliban was eight years in.

We should have respected Afghanistan’s reputation as “the graveyard of empires” and Pakistan’s deserved reputation for double-dealing. The Time magazine cover in December 2001, “The Last Days of the Taliban,” mocks us.

We spent 20 years fighting in Afghanistan. But given our flat learning curve, every year there was like the first. So we were really on our first year for the 20th time, making the same mistakes over and over again.

As with Vietnam, many of those in charge knew for a long time that the war was unwinnable, but they hid the evidence, giving rosy forecasts while burning through $2.2 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives.

As Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who was the Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015 for the secret “Afghanistan Papers,” a project on how things went a cropper: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

Many top Bush officials and neocons who mired us so deeply in the first place were absurdly demanding this past week that President Biden not pull out. They are living cushy lives, enjoying big cable TV contracts and hosannas from liberals for trashing Donald Trump, while our troops have been dishonored by their half-baked and dishonest strategies.

Before we send our young people overseas to die, we need to learn from history and understand what we’re doing, not simply act out of vengeful emotions.

As vice president, Biden was a lone voice in the Oval Office objecting to the surge in Afghanistan. He told Obama, if you let them, the generals will box you in and string it out.

And that’s how you end up with a “forever war,” an endeavor that becomes a self-sustaining energy source, where the objectives are redefined to infinity.

Afghanistan will go down as another lesson in the folly of leaders whose egos simply do not allow them to think they are involved in a failure, so they contrive to paint it as a success.

The U.S. has built a stable of weapons that can kill people wherever it desires. Drones and bombs that can go and drop anywhere we want them to. But the U.S. never bothered to figure out the rest of the equation.

Trump was shooting from the hip but his instinct to withdraw was right. And Biden was right to ignore dire warnings about what will happen when we leave. The Taliban cannot be trusted; they’re true believers in a medieval ideology. A power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban was never going to work.

“The main argument for staying longer is what each of my three predecessors have grappled with: No one wants to say that we should be in Afghanistan forever, but they insist now is not the right moment to leave,” Biden said, adding: “So when will it be the right moment to leave? One more year? Two more years? Ten more years? Ten, 20, 30 billion dollars more above the trillion we’ve already spent? ‘Not now’ — that’s how we got here.”

He talked of how he has carried a card for the last 12 years with the exact number of American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He spoke of his late son, Beau, his “North Star,” who was deployed to Iraq.

“I’m the first president in 40 years who knows what it means to have a child serving in a war zone,” he said.

Hopefully, our experience in Afghanistan will be the graveyard of America’s propensity to believe it can do whatever it wants with its military, without thinking through the consequences.

How could we justify another 20 years, one Afghanistan veteran asked me, poignantly noting that there’s nothing left of his friends who died in the war but names inscribed on park benches.

NY Times Editorial:  Make Tax-Dodging Companies Pay for Biden’s Infrastructure Plan!

 

In US, dozens of big and profitable companies pay no federal taxes |  Business Standard News

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times editorial this morning, entitled Make Tax-Dodging Companies Pay for Biden’s Infrastructure Plan, calls attention to how corporate America evades paying their fair share of taxes by taking advantage of loopholes such as those that allow them to shift profits earned in the United States to other countries. This type of tax reform is long overdue but would be especially appropriate now that President Biden is developing plans to invest in American infrastructure. 

The entire editorial is below.

Tony

 —————————————————————————————————————————

NY Times Editorial

Make Tax-Dodging Companies Pay for Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

By The Editorial Board

April 17, 2021

American companies and companies that make money in the United States are not paying enough money in taxes. Even as profits have soared, tax payments have declined. Fifty-five of the nation’s largest corporations — including FedEx, Nike and the agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland — paid nothing in federal income taxes in 2020, despite collectively reporting more than $40 billion in profits, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

The federal government lets companies avoid taxes by shifting profits earned in the United States to countries with lower tax rates. Every year, American firms, especially in the technology and pharmaceutical sectors, brazenly pretend to earn billions of dollars in microstates like Barbados, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, which are more than happy to play along. Companies and countries both profit, at the expense of the United States.

American policymakers have rewarded this naked legerdemain with rounds of tax cuts, most recently in 2017, partly justified as necessary to induce companies not to cheat. The tax cuts have also been sold as magic fertilizer that will cause the economy to grow faster.

This laissez-faire policy has crammed money into the pockets of wealthy shareholders while depriving the government of needed revenue. But it has failed to deliver its advertised benefits. Allowing corporations to keep a larger share of their profits has not catalyzed corporate investment, nor has it showered Americans with trickle-down prosperity.

There are few clearer examples of the failure of the ideology of reflexive market deference that has dominated economic policymaking in Washington over the last several decades.

In a welcome course correction, President Biden is proposing to increase corporate income taxation and to spend the money on infrastructure. His plan would raise the statutory tax rate on corporate income to 28 percent from 21 percent, still well below the pre-2017 level of 35 percent. The administration estimates it would raise $2.5 trillion over the next 15 years.

The American economy could use a healthy dose of tax-and-spend liberalism. As the Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, recently and rightly noted, “By choosing to compete on taxes, we’ve neglected to compete on the skill of our workers and the strength of our infrastructure.”

However, collecting more money is not as simple as ratcheting up the corporate tax rate.

In 2017 multinational corporations stashed 40 percent of their profits, or more than $700 billion, in tax havens like Luxembourg and Bermuda, according to research by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Copenhagen. Raising tax rates, in isolation, would encourage evasion. It would be like drawing water with a larger sieve.

The core of the Biden plan, therefore, is not the increase in the statutory rate. Rather, it’s a set of companion measures to tax the profits that American companies stash in other countries.

Under the plan, companies would be subject to a 21 percent tax on income reportedly earned in other countries, alongside the 28 percent tax on domestic profits. Companies would get credit for taxes paid to foreign governments; the United States would collect the rest. A company that reported $1 billion in earnings in a country with a 10 percent tax rate would pay $100 million in taxes in that country and an additional $110 million to the U.S. Treasury Department. This simple fix would sharply reduce the incentive to shift profits to low-tax countries.

Setting the tax rate on foreign profits at the same level as the rate on domestic profits would further reduce incentives for profit shifting. But among the developed democracies that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the average corporate tax rate is 23.5 percent. A higher tax rate on foreign profits could place some of the legitimate foreign activities of American firms at a competitive disadvantage.

The Biden administration also is pressing for an international agreement to establish a minimum corporate income tax rate, so foreign corporations could not continue to make use of tax havens. The benefits would extend beyond the United States. Developing nations are particularly reliant on corporate tax revenue. The International Monetary Fund estimates that profit shifting deprives them of $200 billion in annual revenue.

An international deal, however, is not a prerequisite for carrying out the balance of the Biden plan. The legitimate foreign business of American companies is mostly conducted in nations with relatively high corporate tax rates. And even without a deal, the United States could put pressure on tax havens.

The Biden plan would impose tax penalties on the American arms of foreign companies based in countries that maintain low rates. The Obama administration deployed a similar strategy in 2010 to crack down on tax evasion by wealthy individuals by penalizing foreign banks that did not give client information to the Internal Revenue Service.

Corporations and many economists caution that higher tax rates will discourage investment by increasing the return necessary for an investment to be profitable. They say workers will feel the pain of higher tax rates, too, in the form of slower wage growth.

But recent history belies such bleak predictions. After all, before the 2017 tax cuts, American corporations paid about 40 percent more in income taxes each year. A comparison with the rest of the developed world is also instructive. In the United States, the taxation of corporate profits amounted to just 0.96 percent of gross domestic product in 2018, compared with 3.14 percent in the average developed democracy, according to O.E.C.D. data.

It is also a mistake to assess economic policy solely on its contribution to overall economic growth. The distribution of prosperity matters, too; taxing corporations to pay for public services is a worthwhile trade-off. And there is good reason to think that the negative effect on corporate investment and on wages likely would remain relatively small.

The income tax is designed to protect investment. The government, for example, allows companies to deduct interest payments from taxable income. A company that borrows to build a factory pays taxes only on profits exceeding the cost of the loan. The money that gets taxed is mostly what economists call excess returns and what a Louisianian might call lagniappe — profits in excess of what is necessary to motivate investment.

The Biden administration is also proposing a final layer of reinforcement for the income tax: a requirement that companies with income exceeding $2 billion a year pay in taxes at least 15 percent of the income reported to investors. The average American multinational paid just 7.8 percent of its income in corporate income taxes in 2018, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, so imposing a higher minimum has obvious political appeal.

But companies paying less than 15 percent of income in taxes may be taking advantage of tax breaks that serve a legitimate public purpose, such as encouraging spending on research or investing in affordable housing developments. If the alternative minimum tax allows those breaks, it won’t raise much money. If it does not include those breaks, it will undermine those goals. In practice, it’s a choice between a meaningless gesture and a mistake.

Instead of using an alternative minimum tax to patch problems with the primary tax code, Congress can directly address the use of existing tax breaks. The necessary changes can and should be achieved under a single corporate income tax structure. Raise the statutory rate, crack down on the use of foreign tax havens and buy the nation something nice.

 

Worldwide COVID-19 death toll tops 3 million!

Countries with Most Recorded Deaths

Dear Commons Community,

The global death toll from the coronavirus topped 3 million people yesterday amid repeated setbacks in the worldwide vaccination campaign and a deepening crisis in places such as Brazil, India and France.  The true number is believed to be significantly higher because of possible government concealment and the many cases overlooked in the early stages of the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019.  As reported by the Associated Press.

“When the world back in January 2021 passed the bleak threshold of 2 million deaths, immunization drives had just started in Europe and the United States. Today, they are underway in more than 190 countries, though progress in bringing the virus under control varies widely.

While the campaigns in the U.S. and Britain have hit their stride and people and businesses there are beginning to contemplate life after the pandemic, other places, mostly poorer countries but some rich ones as well, are lagging behind in putting shots in arms and have imposed new lockdowns and other restrictions as virus cases soar.

Worldwide, deaths are on the rise again, running at around 12,000 per day on average, and new cases are climbing too, eclipsing 700,000 a day. 

“This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic, where we have proven control measures,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, one of the World Health Organization’s leaders on COVID-19.

In Brazil, where deaths are running at about 3,000 per day, accounting for one-quarter of the lives lost worldwide in recent weeks, the crisis has been likened to a “raging inferno” by one WHO official. A more contagious variant of the virus has been rampaging across the country.

As cases surge, hospitals are running out of critical sedatives. As a result, there have been reports of some doctors diluting what supplies remain and even tying patients to their beds while breathing tubes are pushed down their throats.

The slow vaccine rollout has crushed Brazilians’ pride in their own history of carrying out huge immunization campaigns that were the envy of the developing world.

Taking cues from President Jair Bolsonaro, who has likened the virus to little more than a flu, his Health Ministry for months bet big on a single vaccine, ignoring other producers. When bottlenecks emerged, it was too late to get large quantities in time. 

Watching so many patients suffer and die alone at her Rio de Janeiro hospital impelled nurse Lidiane Melo to take desperate measures. 

In the early days of the pandemic, as sufferers were calling out for comfort that she was too busy to provide, Melo filled two rubber gloves with warm water, knotted them shut, and sandwiched them around a patient’s hand to simulate a loving touch.

Some have christened the practice the “hand of God,” and it is now the searing image of a nation roiled by a medical emergency with no end in sight.

“Patients can’t receive visitors. Sadly, there’s no way. So it’s a way to provide psychological support, to be there together with the patient holding their hand,” Melo said. She added: “And this year it’s worse, the seriousness of patients is 1,000 times greater.”

This situation is similarly dire in India, where cases spiked in February after weeks of steady decline, taking authorities by surprise. In a surge driven by variants of the virus, India saw over 180,000 new infections in one 24-hour span during the past week, bringing the total number of cases to over 13.9 million.

Problems that India had overcome last year are coming back to haunt health officials. Only 178 ventilators were free Wednesday afternoon in New Delhi, a city of 29 million, where 13,000 new infections were reported the previous day. 

The challenges facing India reverberate beyond its borders since the country is the biggest supplier of shots to COVAX, the U.N.-sponsored program to distribute vaccines to poorer parts of the world. Last month, India said it would suspend vaccine exports until the virus’s spread inside the country slows. 

The WHO recently described the supply situation as precarious. Up to 60 countries might not receive any more shots until June, by one estimate. To date, COVAX has delivered about 40 million doses to more than 100 countries, enough to cover barely 0.25% of the world’s population. 

Globally, about 87% of the 700 million doses dispensed have been given out in rich countries. While 1 in 4 people in wealthy nations have received a vaccine, in poor countries the figure is 1 in more than 500.

In recent days, the U.S. and some European countries put the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine on hold while authorities investigate extremely rare but dangerous blood clots. AstraZeneca’s vaccine has likewise been hit with delays and restrictions because of a clotting scare.

Another concern: Poorer countries are relying on vaccines made by China and Russia, which some scientists believe provide less protection that those by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

Last week, the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged the country’s vaccines offer low protection and said officials are considering mixing them with other shots to improve their effectiveness. 

In the U.S., where over 560,000 lives have been lost, accounting for more than 1 in 6 of the world’s COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations and deaths have dropped, businesses are reopening, and life is beginning to return to something approaching normalcy in several states. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits tumbled last week to 576,000, a post-COVID-19 low.

But progress has been patchy, and new hot spots — most notably Michigan — have flared up in recent weeks. Still, deaths in the U.S. are down to about 700 per day on average, plummeting from a mid-January peak of about 3,400.

In Europe, countries are feeling the brunt of a more contagious variant that first ravaged Britain and has pushed the continent’s COVID-19-related death toll beyond 1 million.

Close to 6,000 gravely ill patients are being treated in French critical care units, numbers not seen since the first wave a year ago.

Dr. Marc Leone, head of intensive care at the North Hospital in Marseille, said exhausted front-line staff members who were feted as heroes at the start of the pandemic now feel alone and are clinging to hope that renewed school closings and other restrictions will help curb the virus in the coming weeks.”

Here in the United States, we should consider ourselves fortunate that the vaccine has been rolled out successfully in many parts of the country but it appears we will have to maintain caution for months to come yet so as not to slip back to pre-vaccine infection rates.

Tony

Vartan Gregorian, Savior of the New York Public Library, Dies at 87!

President George W. Bush congratulating Dr. Gregorian at the White House in 2004 after conferring on him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Credit…Doug Mills/ The New York Times

Dear Commons Community,

Vartan Gregorian, an Armenian immigrant who climbed to the pinnacles of academic and philanthropic achievement but took a detour in the 1980s to restore the New York Public Library to its place at the heart of American intellectual life, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 87.

The death, at a hospital, was confirmed by his son Dareh Gregorian. No cause was given.

A scholar, a university leader and a believer in libraries, he almost single-handedly rescued the grand but broken New York Library during a time of fiscal austerity.  As reported in the New York Times.

Dr. Gregorian liked to tell the story of “the most painful experience of my entire life.” It happened in 1980, when he was provost of the University of Pennsylvania, its top academic official. Powerful trustees told him that he was a shoo-in to replace the outgoing president. He was so sure of the post that he withdrew his name from consideration as chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley.

He heard the bad news on his car radio. The Penn trustees had chosen another academic star. The next day, he resigned. The outgoing president tried to dissuade him, but it was no use.

“I told him that I could cope with rejection, but not insult and humiliation,” Dr. Gregorian said in a memoir, “The Road to Home: My Life and Times” (2003).

Indeed, Dr. Gregorian was a fighter: proud, shrewd, charming, a brilliant historian and educator who rose from humble origins to speak seven languages, win sheaves of honors and be offered the presidencies of Columbia University and the Universities of Michigan and Miami. He accepted the presidency of Brown University (1989-1997), transforming it into one of the Ivy League’s hottest schools, and since then had been president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a major benefactor of education.

But he was best known for resurrecting the New York Public Library from a fiscal and morale crisis. It was a radical, midcareer change from the pastoral academic realm, and a risky plunge into the high-profile social and political wars of New York City, where the budget-cutting knives were out after decades of profligacy, neglect and a brush with municipal bankruptcy in the 1970s.

By 1981, when the feelers went out to Dr. Gregorian, the library — the main research edifice at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue and 83 branches in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island — was broke, a decaying Dickensian repository of 7.7 million books (the world’s sixth largest collection), many of them rare and valuable, gathering dust and crumbling on 88 linear miles of stacks.

The underpaid, overworked staff was demoralized. The beautiful Gottesman Exhibition Hall had been partitioned into cubicles for personnel and accounting. Tarnished chandeliers and lighting fixtures were missing bulbs. In the trustees’ board room, threadbare curtains fell apart at the touch. Outside, the imperious marble lions, Patience and Fortitude, and the portals they guarded, were dirt-streaked. Bryant Park in the back was infested with drug dealers and pimps and unsafe after dark.

But the main problems were not even visible. The library faced a $50 million deficit and had no political clout. Its constituencies were scholars, children and citizens who liked to read. The city had cut back so hard that the main branch was closed on Thursdays, and some branches were open only eight hours a week.

To Dr. Gregorian, the challenge was irresistible. The library was, like him, a victim of insult and humiliation. The problem, as he saw it, was that the institution, headquartered in the magnificent Carrère and Hastings Beaux-Arts pile dedicated by President William Howard Taft in 1911, had come to be seen by New York City’s leaders, and even its citizens, as a dispensable frivolity.

He seemed a dubious savior: a short, pudgy scholar who had spent his entire professional life in academic circles. On the day he met the board, he was a half-hour late, and the trustees were talking about selling prized collections, cutting hours of service and closing some branches. He asked only for time, and offered in return a new vision.

“The New York Public Library is a New York and national treasure,” he said. “The branch libraries have made lives and saved lives. The New York Public Library is not a luxury. It is an integral part of New York’s social fabric, its culture, its institutions, its media and its scholarly, artistic and ethnic communities. It deserves the city’s respect, appreciation and support. No, the library is not a cost center! It is an investment in the city’s past and future!”

His personality was so engaging, his fire for restoring the library so compelling, that the board endorsed him unanimously as its president and chief executive. So long as he succeeded, he would be given time. He needed money, too, but he was an experienced university fund-raiser.

More than money, he needed allies. He found them in Andrew Heiskell, the incoming library chairman, who had just retired as chairman and chief executive of Time Inc.; Richard B. Salomon, the library’s vice chairman, who had been chairman since 1977; and Brooke Astor, the widow of Vincent Astor and doyenne of society who was presiding over bequests of $195 million to charitable causes.

Dr. Gregorian wrote: “Richard Salomon paved the way for individual giving and business and Jewish philanthropy; Andrew Heiskell went after individuals and major corporations, his former pals; Mrs. Astor opened the doors of New York society and its philanthropy. They helped me make the case for the New York Public Library, making it a civic project that was both honorable and glamorous.”

Mrs. Astor gave a black tie party to introduce Dr. Gregorian and his wife, Clare Gregorian, to New York society. Weeks earlier, she had given a party for President Ronald Reagan and the first lady, Nancy Reagan. When Dr. Gregorian voiced surprise that the guest list for both dinners was substantially the same, Mrs. Astor told him, “The president of the New York Public Library is an important citizen of New York and the nation.”

“Literary Lions” dinners at $1,000 a plate were soon underway, attended by the likes of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Dr. Gregorian met corporate and foundation leaders to drum up support and spread good will. He gave and attended dinner parties, and with Mrs. Astor, who made the library her top philanthropic priority, organized charity balls and other functions.

In the news regularly with his appeals, Dr. Gregorian often sounded like a voice of conscience. He called the library “a sacred place,” telling The New Yorker: “Think of a lone person in one of our reading rooms, who has just read a book, a single book that has perhaps not been read in 20 years by another living soul, and from that reading comes an invention of incalculable importance to the human race. It makes a man tremble.”

Results began to show. The main library and many branches restored days of service. The card catalog was computerized. Temperature and humidity controls were installed, public rooms were air-conditioned, facades were cleaned, and a $45 million renovation was launched. Partitions and cubicles were removed, marble walls were restored, and carved wooden ceilings were refinished. Scores of projects began. One was a cleaning of the books and stacks, undusted for 75 years.

Tides of tourists and visitors returned. Exhibitions, lectures, concerts and other cultural events made the main library a beehive of intellectual life, day and night. Afternoon and evening activities in Bryant Park drew crowds that chased the ne’er do wells. Out front, Patience and Fortitude were bathed, and people of all ages lounged on the broad steps to bask in sunshine.

Dr. Gregorian campaigned as if running for election. Mayor Edward I. Koch, who knew a good thing when he saw one, climbed on the bandwagon, and former Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. said of Dr. Gregorian: “He reminded us that libraries were engines of hope that move people into the middle class and to worlds beyond themselves.”

He was masterful in dealing with the City Council and the Board of Estimate, which in those days held the purse strings. On the job less than two years, he told the council’s Finance Committee that it was demeaning for him to annually defend the library’s right to exist. He said he would no longer come hat-in-hand and would only present the library’s case for a fair share of the money.

By the end of his tenure, in 1989, Dr. Gregorian had raised $327 million in public and private funds for the library, placing it on a firm footing.

“What he did was put the library in the spotlight,” Mr. Heiskell told The New Yorker. “He had to change the mood of the city for the library, of the people in the city for the library, and of the people in the library for the library.

“In essence, he had to change the future.”

Vartan Gregorian was born on April 8, 1934, in the Armenian quarter of Tabriz, in northwest Iran, to Samuel and Shooshanik (Mirzaian) Gregorian. His father was an accountant for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Vartan’s older brother, Aram, died in infancy, and his mother died of pneumonia when he was 6. His father was drafted in World War II and later became an often-unemployed office worker.

Vartan and his younger sister, Ojik, were raised by their maternal grandmother, Voski Mirzaian, an illiterate but gracious storyteller whose allegorical fables instilled in the children lessons in morality: about telling the truth, possessing integrity, and the dignity to be found in stoicism and good deeds.

“She was my hero,” Dr. Gregorian said in an interview for this obituary in 2019. “I learned more about character from her than from anybody I ever met or any book I ever read.”

Vartan was a voracious reader and spent much time in the extensive library of his Armenian Church, where he had a part-time job in the stacks. “It was heaven,” he said. “There were translations of all the Western classics, and I read Russian literature, so I became familiar with Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Tolstoy, Dumas and Victor Hugo.”

Languages came to him easily. “We had Armenian at home, Russian at school, and we grew up with Turkish and Persian,” he said. He recalled that after his father remarried, he could not tolerate his stepmother and ran away from home at 15.

He landed in Beirut, Lebanon, with a teacher’s letter of introduction to the Collège Arménien, a lycée founded in 1928 to educate Armenian refugees. Simon Vratzian, the Armenian Republic’s last prime minister, was the school’s director. He enrolled the boy and became his mentor. Vartan learned French, Arabic and smatterings of English before graduating in 1955 with honors.

In 1956, he won a scholarship to Stanford University. Despite starting with shaky English, he became fluent and, majoring in history and humanities, earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in two years.

In 1960, he married Clare Russell, a fellow student at Stanford. In addition to Dareh, they had two more sons, Vahé and Raffi, all of whom survive Dr. Gregorian, along with his sister and five grandchildren. He lived in Midtown Manhattan.

A Ford Foundation fellowship took Dr. Gregorian to England, France, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. He earned a dual doctorate in history and humanities from Stanford in 1964. He taught European and Middle Eastern history at San Francisco State College, U.C.L.A. and the University of Texas before joining the University of Pennsylvania in 1972.

At Penn, he was a professor of Armenian and South Asian history for eight years, the school’s first dean of what is now the College of Arts and Sciences, from 1974 to 1978, and then provost until his departure in 1980 after being passed over for the presidency.

After his acclaimed work to save the New York Public Library, Dr. Gregorian, as the president of Brown University, led a five-year campaign there that raised $534 million, the most ambitious in Brown’s history. He raised the endowment to $1 billion from $400 million, doubled undergraduate scholarships, hired 270 new faculty members, endowed 90 professorships and built a student residence that bears his name. In his last year, there were 15,000 applicants for 1,482 places in the freshman class.

It was in 1997 that Dr. Gregorian assumed the presidency of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the foundation created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote education and peace. After decades as a supplicant, raising $1 billion for universities and libraries, he became a benefactor, starting with an endowment of $1.5 billion that grew to $3.5 billion over his tenure.

His grants strengthened education, international security, democratic institutions and global development. Domestically, he emphasized reforms in teacher training and liberal arts education; abroad, he stressed scholarships for social sciences and humanities.

Dr. Gregorian also advised philanthropists, including Bill and Melinda Gates, Walter H. Annenberg and officials of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Humanities Medal, and in 2004 President George W. Bush conferred on him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Besides his memoir, he wrote “The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1880-1946” (1969); “Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith” (2004) and many articles on history and global affairs.

Dr. Gregorian, who often recalled the kindness of strangers, said that after landing in New York in 1956 to start life in America, he lost his plane ticket to San Francisco. He was due to register the next day at Stanford. His future seemed to hang in the balance. In faltering English, he poured out his desperation to an airport ticket agent.

The man hesitated, saying something about regulations. Then he softened.

“I have never done what I am about to do,” the agent said. He stamped the young man’s empty ticket envelope and told him to stay on the plane — a four-stop, 14-hour flight — to avoid discovery.

“I never forgot that man,” Dr. Gregorian said in the 2019 interview. “He gave me my future. For years I wanted to thank him but couldn’t find him. I told the story in my book to thank him — and now my conscience is clear.”

I always had a special place in my heart for the New York Library and as a young boy growing up in the South Bronx borrowed my first books from its storefront branch on 156th Street and Melrose Avenue.

I also had the pleasure of being in the company of Dr. Gregorian on several occasions in the 1980s when he would come to Hunter College and meet with his friend, Donna Shalala.  He was a larger than life figure who let his presence be felt.

May he rest on peace!

Tony

Donald Trump Ally Roger Stone Sued by the U.S. Justice Department for Tax Evasion!

Roger Stone with his wife Nydia

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, the U.S. Justice Department brought a suit against Donald Trump’s ally Roger Stone and his wife, accusing them of failing to pay nearly $2 million in income tax.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It alleges the couple underpaid their income tax by more than $1.5 million from 2007 until 2011 and separately alleges Stone also owes more than $400,000 for not fully paying his tax bill in 2018.

The suit states that the couple used a commercial entity known as Drake Ventures to “shield their personal income from enforced collection” and to fund a “lavish lifestyle.” 

As reported by the Associated Press.

“Despite notice and demand for payment, Roger and Nydia Stone have failed and refused to pay the entire amount of the liabilities,” the lawsuit says.

Stone, a longtime confidant of the former president’s, calls the lawsuit “politically motivated.”

Stone was charged by the Justice Department in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and convicted at trial of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election. Trump later commuted Stone’s sentence and pardoned him.

Stone boasted during the 2016 campaign that he was in contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange through a trusted intermediary and hinted at inside knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to release more than 19,000 emails hacked from the servers of the Democratic National Committee. But Stone denied any wrongdoing and consistently criticized the case against him as politically motivated.

“The Internal Revenue Service is well aware of the fact that my three-year battle for freedom against the corrupted Mueller investigation has left me destitute,” Stone told The Associated Press. “They’re well aware that I have no assets and that their lawsuit is politically motivated. It’s particularly interesting that my tax attorneys were not told of this action, filed at close of business on a Friday. The American people will learn, in court, that I am on the verge of bankruptcy and that there are no assets for the government to take.”

If there ever was an individual who represents the lowest of the low, it is Roger Stone.

Tony

Video: “Shut your mouth!” Maxine Waters SCOLDS Jim Jordan during House hearing on COVID-19.

Dear Commons Community,

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan and the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci got into a heated exchange yesterday over the country’s Covid-19 mitigation measures, which ended with Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters telling Jordan to “shut your mouth.”

During a House subcommittee hearing about federal government’s response to the pandemic, Jordan, an Ohio conservative, asked Fauci when the nation can begin relaxing physical distancing measures and mask-wearing — posing it as a question as to when Americans will regain their freedom and liberties.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, started to respond that the time will be when the United States has more Americans vaccinated and has a level of coronavirus infection that is low enough that it’s “no longer a threat.”

Jordan then interrupted Fauci, asking for a specific number.

“We had 15 days of ‘slow the spread’ turn into one year of lost liberty,” Jordan said. “What metrics, what measures, what has to happen before Americans get more freedoms back?”

“You’re indicating liberty and freedom. I look at it as a public health measure to prevent people from dying and going to the hospital,” Fauci countered. “This will end, for sure, when we get the level of infection very low. It is now at such a high level, there is a threat again of major surges.”

Fauci later said to Jordan, “You’re making this a personal thing and it isn’t.”

“It’s not a personal thing,” Jordan fired back.

“No, you are,” Fauci said, sounding exasperated. “That is exactly what you’re doing.”

Fauci defended his recommendations as being consistent and based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Covid-19 guidance.

“Right now, we have about 60,000 infections a day, which is a very large risk for resurge. We’re not talking about liberties. We’re talking about a pandemic that has killed 560,000 Americans,” said Fauci, who later said his “best estimate” would be to have the number of infections per day to be “well below” 10,000 a day.

The back-and-forth between Fauci and Jordan — who have clashed before — continued for a few minutes until the subcommittee chair, Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, announced that Jordan’s time expired.

When Jordan tried to continue questioning Fauci, Waters interjected from across the room.

“You need to respect the chair and shut your mouth,” she told Jordan.

Later in the hearing, when Jordan asked Fauci the same questions and griped whether Americans would be wearing masks two years from now, Fauci told the congressman he was “ranting.”

Yesterday’s hearing was to examine the Biden administration’s progress on vaccines with the CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and the chief science officer of the Covid-19 response Dr. David Kessler also as witnesses.

Go get ’em Maxine!

Tony

 

 

Hundreds of CEOs, celebrities, corporations sign ad opposing ‘discriminatory’ voting legislation!

Click to Enlarge

Dear Commons Community,

Dozens of companies, including Amazon, Google, Starbucks and Netflix, joined hundreds of business leaders, celebrities, law firms, and nonprofits to sign a new statement opposing “any discriminatory legislation” that would restrict ballot access.

The statement, appearing Wednesday as advertisements in The New York Times and The Washington Post, is the latest and largest mobilization by corporate America against restrictive voting legislation advanced by Republicans around the country.  As reported by NBC News.

“We stand for democracy,” the statement, stretched across two full pages, reads. “We all should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”

In addition to companies and their leaders, the statement’s signatories includes celebrities, major law-firms, and nonprofits. The Times first reported the statement.

Target, Bank of America, Apple, Cisco, Berkshire Partners, American Express and Wells Fargo were among dozens of other corporations that signed on, while George Clooney, Paula Abdul, Michael Bloomberg, Mark Ruffalo, Demi Lovato, Brian Cornell, chair and CEO of Target, and Warren Buffett were among hundreds of individuals. Josh Kushner, brother to Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and founder of venture capital firm Thrive Capital, also signed the letter.

The show of force comes as Republicans across the country work to advance hundreds of restrictions, changes that voting rights advocates and civil rights groups argue would disproportionately affect voters of color. Republicans say they must restore trust in American elections, even as they continue to cast doubt on the integrity of the election former President Donald Trump lost. By all accounts, the 2020 election was secure and its results accurate. Nonetheless, there are more than 350 restrictive election bills being considered in 47 state legislatures, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which has been tracking the legislation.

“I think it’s an unquestionable show of unity from the business community that democracy is a priority,” said Mike Ward, a co-founder of the Civic Alliance, a nonpartisan group that encourages civic participation from businesses.

Ward said he helped do outreach to corporations about signing the letter.

“We did not get a lot of no’s,” he told NBC News.

NBC News previously reported that more than a dozen major law firms — including one of the statement’s signatories, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison of New York — are planning a multi-year commitment to fight any restrictions that pass.

Brad Karp, chairman of Paul, Weiss, said the effort would send “SWAT teams” of private practice attorneys into states to aid the advocates and lawyers who typically file legal action.

Republicans have pushed back against such corporate pressure.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned corporate America to “stay out of politics” before softening his stance a day later, saying: “I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are. My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill,” referring to Georgia’s recently enacted law.

McConnell is wrong.  These corporations are showing a commitment to American democracy.  Republicans need to do the same and stop putting their party above the country.

Tony