Covid incompetence

By Christopher Harper

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is my nominee for the covid incompetence award.

Although other state leaders have gotten more publicity for their ill-conceived plans, Wolf has been playing nanny to millions of Pennsylvanians, including me.

He and his bureaucrats created an amazingly complicated plan for reopening the state based on red, yellow, and green designations. The unscientific basis is that a county can plan to open or go to yellow status if its covid cases remain at 50 per day for two weeks. If the county still has less than 50 cases, it can reopen. If a country has more than 50 cases, it is red and cannot open.

Wolf couldn’t even remember where the plan came from.

The governor also condemned local officials and businesses as “cowardly” if they move to reopen businesses without state authorization and threatened to withhold federal relief for counties that violate his stay-at-home order.

Moreover, Wolf has told Pennsylvania residents to remain in their shelters and not go to the open beaches in nearby New Jersey. “There are people there who aren’t wearing masks, and you’re putting yourself at risk. I wouldn’t do that, I haven’t done that, and I’m not sure why the governors of Maryland and New Jersey have opened their beaches, but they have,” he said.

But there’s more. Statewide, 3,234 coronavirus deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities, according to the health department. Those deaths represent 66 percent of the state’s coronavirus fatalities.

That means that Wolf has locked down all of Pennsylvania when he needed to do a better job of keeping the older population of the state safe.

Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine, a transsexual pediatrician, decided to get to the bottom of the issue. They forced all such institutions to provide data on what happened. The state got the data all messed up, including naming one evildoer with more than 100 cases. The facility had only seven patients.

Moreover, Levine wasn’t taking any chances with her mother, moving her to a hotel rather than staying in a long-term care facility. Republicans have called for Levine’s resignation.

The GOP has made Wolf the center of its campaign strategy to battle Democrats in the upcoming national election. Even some Democrats—as President Trump did—have called for Wolf to open up the state more quickly. One Democratic lawmaker from suburban Philadelphia wrote a letter saying residents in her district “have not yet seen evidence that your administration recognizes and sympathizes with the added physical, emotional, and financial suffering they are facing as a result of our prolonged stay-at-home conditions.”

I realize that others may find their governor thoroughly lacking in the ability to run a state. But my guy, Tom Wolf, has got to be near the bottom of the class in the country.

The golden age of journalism wasn’t so golden

By Christopher Harper

As it has become increasingly apparent that the media have become political partisans, I started to wonder how neutral the press was during the more than two decades I worked as a reporter.

The more I thought about it, the more I discovered that the media back in the good old days might not have been as overtly political as today, but slanted stories and opinions often made it into the news.

From 1974 to 1995, I worked at the Associated Press, Newsweek, and ABC News in Chicago, Washington, Beirut, Cairo, Rome, and New York. I worked with Barbara Walters, Peter Jennings, Hugh Downs, and many other well-known journalists. I competed against others, including Thomas Friedman, E.J. Dionne, David Ignatius, and many others.

Here’s what I recall about politics in the news back then. During my time in Washington, I watched as the nation’s press eviscerated Jimmy Carter and his team. Carter came from outside the swamp and didn’t fit into Washington culture. Neither did his top aides.

I don’t think Carter was a particularly good president, but the media took him to task on almost everything he tried. I can count on one hand, however, the number of former colleagues who voted for a Republican in the past 40 years.

Almost every reporter during the Iran hostage crisis thought Ayatollah Khomeini had to be better than the shah. How wrong we were!

In Beirut, almost every journalist backed the Palestinians, including me. Jennings had spent much of his early years in the Middle East and had a distinctly Arab tilt. Ignatius did some good work in the Middle East but has since gone off the rails with his analyses.

In Cairo, many journalists supported the peace efforts of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. I wasn’t one of them, but Sadat had an incredibly positive press in the United States. The opposite was true in many Arab states and Europe. Friedman had no understanding of the assassination of Sadat when he covered the story in 1981.

In Rome, I saw Dionne completely botch the story behind the plot to kill Pope John Paul II.

Just as I arrived in the United States in 1986 to work with ABC’s 20/20, Roone Arledge, a legend in television circles, had killed for the program on the sexual exploits of JFK when he was in the White House. Arledge didn’t want to upset the Kennedy clan and one of his top aides who worked with the family.

At 20/20, it was clear that Walters had a distinctly liberal bent, but she didn’t stand in the way of opposing viewpoints. Downs was just an incredibly decent human being.

Not too long after I arrived at the program, I included an interview with Pat Buchanan. I was accosted by a fellow producer who threatened that she would make sure people wouldn’t work with me if I ever had another conservative on the program.

Although the recollections here are merely anecdotal, they underline the powerful, albeit subtle, ways in which the media set an agenda back in the golden years. The political bias may not have been so apparent and so constant, but it was there. I am the first to admit that my biases probably made their way into my stories.

After I left the mainstream media, I wrote a column for The Washington Times for nearly three years until 2015. My former colleagues berated the conservative tone of the columns, including one who described me as “dumb as a boulder.” I was prevented from sharing my columns on a Facebook page for former ABC employees.

Today, I find that nearly all of my former colleagues have a decidedly liberal or leftist viewpoint.

In fact, a large group of ABC News retirees publicly criticized Trump over his attacks on the press. An Obama organizer and former ABC News producer started the petition. See  https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2018/10/25/trump-inciting-violence-nearly-retired-journalists-condemn-presidents-un-american-attacks-press/

I wonder if these points of view crept into their news coverage back in the day. I think they probably did.

Fear, loathing, and Hunter Thompson

By Christopher Harper

Fifty years ago, Hunter S. Thompson became the father of Gonzo journalism, an irreverent brand of reporting that influenced many young writers, including me. 

Thompson and artist Ralph Steadman “covered” the Kentucky Derby for Scanlan’s, a small, progressive magazine.

Thompson, who grew up in Louisville and hated it, described the focus of the story as “the vicious-drunk Southern bourbon horse-shit mentality that surrounds the Derby than in the Derby itself.”

In an excellent article in Quillette, author David Wills described Thompson’s approach of Gonzo, a reference to a song he played regularly on the 1968 campaign trail:

“He tended to insert himself into the prose as observer and participant, embark on weird and irrelevant digressions, recount conversations and events that probably never happened, discard any pretense of objectivity, lurch erratically in and out of hyperbole and paranoia, and dust his prose with a litany of stylistic quirks and a peculiar lexis that included words like ‘atavistic,’ ‘swine,’ ‘savage,’ and ‘doomed.’ It was a subjective, chaotic, and messy approach to journalism.”

Wills captured the essence of the Derby article:

“The first half recounts Thompson’s arrival in Kentucky, a prank played on a gullible racist at the airport, and then his meeting with Steadman. The second half is a disjointed but somehow intensely personal account of a day spent staggering around the Derby in an inebriated state, terrifying attendees, and spraying a restaurant full of patrons with mace. Thompson and Steadman didn’t bother to actually watch the race they had been sent to cover…. It was a highly unusual piece of writing that trashed the conventions of traditional reporting in favor of a freewheeling rock ‘n’ roll antagonism. It was funny but aggressive, satirical and cruel, and only loosely factual. It was neither exactly journalism nor exactly fiction.” See https://quillette.com/2020/05/02/decadence-and-depravity-in-louisville-kentucky/

As a young journalist, I loved that Thompson did everything I was told NOT to do. His articles were like the Playboy and pack of Old Gold cigarettes you kept hidden from your parents as a teenager. I first read Thompson in Rolling Stone, where he offered some of his most famous prose, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in 1971 and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail in 1972. 

In Las Vegas, Thompson was investigating the killing of journalist Ruben Salazar, who died covering an antiwar protest in Los Angeles. On a side trip, Thompson and attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta arrived in Sin City, where they indulged in psychedelics, an activity they repeated when they returned a month later to cover a conference on the nation’s drug problem. Eventually, Thompson wrote about drugs in the United States, which became an epitaph for the 1960s. 

Heavily inspired by J.P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man, it offers a wild and funny story of sports journalist Raoul Duke, Thompson alter-ego, and his attorney running amok in Las Vegas.

Although many people think the 1972 campaign book is his best—and it was quite good at the time—Vegas was Thompson’s masterpiece. 

From the mid-seventies onward, however, his output became progressively weaker as Thompson turned to cocaine. As Wills put it: “The one-man literary genre was soon washed up, sold out, and left to reflect upon chances missed. Thompson had earned his place in the literary canon with staggering innovations in form, but he burned out and stopped pushing…. [W]hen a great writer can no longer write, and when even the possibility of turning out another great book no longer exists, there is little else to do.”

Thompson committed suicide in 2005. He was 67, a year younger than I am now. Per his wishes, Thompson’s ashes were fired out of a cannon in a ceremony funded by his friend Johnny Depp and attended by friends, including then-Senator John Kerry and Jack Nicholson. 

Trump and the ivory tower

Nearly two dozen of my former and current colleagues have endorsed a call to eliminate live coverage of President Trump because he “uses [it] as a platform for misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19, [and] they have become a serious public health hazard–a matter of life and death for viewers who cannot easily identify his falsehoods, lies, and exaggerations.”

The call continues: “We ask that no speech, rally, or press conference involving the president be covered live anymore. The risk of passing along bad information and harmful advice is too great. 

“News organizations need to attend carefully to what he says and only share information that they can independently verify. By asking themselves ‘is what he said something we should be amplifying?’ news organizations can offset the damage these briefings are producing.” 

The open letter, which was sent to a variety of news organizations, underlines how out of touch the ivory tower is. 

First, the letter assumes that people are so stupid they can’t possibly understand errors or sarcasm. 

That’s one of the reasons the media and their academic companions have become so distrusted. When Gallup measures the most respected professions, journalists rank near the bottom, way below auto mechanics, lawyers, policemen, and military officers. 

Second, I know two of the leading lights of the anti-Trump movement: Todd Gitlin of Columbia University and Jay Rosen of New York University.

Gitlin, who was called “Todd the God” at NYU when I taught there, is the former head of the Students for a Democratic Society and has been a political organizer much of his life. He opposed the Gulf War of 1991 and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars of the 2000s. He’s called for Harvard to divest from companies that develop fossil fuels or support Israel.

Rosen created a website called Press Think, which has become a darling of academics and press folks and has been a frequent critic of the Trump administration. One of his main collaborations is with billionaire Pierre Omidyar, one of the most significant contributors to the Democrat Party. 

My favorite memory of Rosen occurred one winter break when he opened his office window to hide the smell of his cigarette. He forgot to close the window, which led to the pipes freezing throughout the building and left a colossal repair bill for NYU. If the shoe of absent-minded professor fits, then Rosen definitely should wear it.  

Third, the list of signatories supposedly includes professors of communications, journalism, and media studies. But after a quick look through the online letter, I found partial names, health workers, and members of the public. So much for being an “exclusive” group of knowledgable educators.

I don’t think objectivity, fairness, and balance exist in the media anymore, but I think transparency should play a significant role in the press. 

That’s why I suggest that all of the signatories who teach journalism should make their anti-Trump sentiments publicly available to their students—as I have made my conservative views known. 

More important, I hope my former and current colleagues keep their politics out of the classroom—as I have done for more than two decades. 

Covid-19 and the nursing home ‘death pits’

By Christopher Harper

Covid-19 has uncovered an incredible dirty secret that nursing home and long-term care facilities are killers.

Not only have roughly 20 percent of the 50,000-plus deaths occurred in these facilities, but the virus has also shown an industry that thrives on death, allowing nearly 400,000 to die each year—often from diseases they get in the homes.

Moreover, many hospitals rejected virus victims during the crisis after they become ill because those in nursing homes are among the most vulnerable because of their age and underlying conditions.

In New Jersey, 17 bodies were piled up in a nursing home morgue, and more than a quarter of a Virginia home’s residents died. At least 24 people at a facility in Maryland have died; more than 100 residents and workers have been infected at another in Kansas; and people have died in centers for military veterans in Florida, Nevada, New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington. In the Philadelphia suburbs, a top-rated facility, the Southeastern Veterans’ Center has had nearly 30 people die and expects to see more.

New York officials disclosed the names of 72 long-term care facilities that have had five or more deaths, including the Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn where 55 people died. At least 14 nursing homes in New York City and its suburbs recorded more than 25 coronavirus-related deaths. In New Jersey, officials revealed that infections have broken out in 394 long-term facilities — almost two-thirds of the state’s homes — and that more than 1,500 deaths were tied to nursing facilities, DaTimes reported. See more at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/17/us/coronavirus-nursing-homes.html

“They’re sitting ducks, the veterans,” said one family member told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “They are dying alone, that makes me utterly mad. It’s inhumane. And they’re withholding information about how dire it is.” For more, see https://www.inquirer.com/news/southeastern-veterans-center-coronavirus-chester-county-covid-20200425.html

The center is one of the best in the State of Pennsylvania, with a long waiting list. 

All told, there are about 15,000 nursing homes in the United States, which house about 1.3 million people. 

In Pennsylvania, about 126,000 people live in these facilities. Nearly half of Pennsylvania’s known coronavirus-related deaths have been residents of long-term-care facilities. 

Because one of the first outbreaks of Covid-19 occurred in a Washington nursing home, most facilities were put on notice about the problems. 

But the underlying issues left many facilities unprepared. These problems include a lack of personal protective equipment, the inability to maintain social distancing among residents, inadequate staff, and the failure to act quickly enough when residents exhibited symptoms of the disease.

Many of the staff are paid at the minimum wage and often job at a facility for a short period. 

Moreover, many state agencies fail to enforce local and federal standards on how the facilities should function. 

As the pandemic slows down, investigators should turn their attention to the severe problems that exist in nursing homes and long-term care facilities to protect those who are most likely to die and have no other place to go.

Higher Ed: Adapt or die

By Christopher Harper

Covid-19 may have created a perfect storm when it comes to higher education, creating an opportunity to take a good, hard look at a college education.

In the past 30 years, the cost of an undergraduate degree has tripled at public schools and more than doubled at private schools, adjusting for inflation. At a four-year, private institution, tuition and room and board averaged $46,950 in 2018. Four-year public colleges charged an average of $20,770 a year for tuition, fees, and room and board. For out-of-state students, the total went up to $36,420.

At roughly the same time, the Federal Reserve estimated that the cost of a college education increased eight times the percentage of wages.

Simply put, the ratio between the cost of a college education and a job is way out of balance.

That equation doesn’t take into account the massive debt that students have amassed as a result of the increased costs.

It’s worth noting that in Pennsylvania, which would be relatively representative of many states, the losses faced by universities have little to do with the classroom. Instead, the losses involve housing, sports, and conferences. Maybe universities should stick to the core mission of educating students and get out of these other businesses. See https://www.inquirer.com/education/coronavirus-stimulus-dollars-penn-state-temple-rutgers-rowan-st-joes-widener-cuts-money-20200420.html

What can be done about the cost of higher education?

The amount of money spent on faculty has decreased over the past few decades as universities hire more adjuncts who receive lower pay and often no benefits.

At the same time, the number of non-teaching personnel on campus, with several administrators at top universities making six-figure salaries with fringe benefits and secretarial support. About two-thirds of university budgets have nothing to do with teaching but instead go toward dormitories, facilities, marketing, and student health.

At Temple University in Philadelphia, where I teach, I have seen a vast expansion of vice deans, assistant deans, associate deans, directors, and assistants to the above over the past 15 years. I don’t know what many of them do, and none of them have visited my classroom.

Higher education will have to expand its offerings of online courses at reduced rates after students and their parents saw that classes could be delivered relatively effectively. That means that faculty will have to come to grips with providing online instruction.

The discussions I have had with faculty about online teaching remind me of my former colleagues in the news business who ignored the implications of the internet more than 20 years ago.

Simply put, colleges and universities must adapt or die.

Corona virus questions

By Christopher Harper

Despite all of the information swirling around about Covid-19, I still have a bunch of unanswered questions.

Why were the models so wrong? 

In the space of about a week starting April 2, two revisions on April 5 and 8 have utterly discredited the model produced by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Just days ago, the estimates called for the likelihood of 100,000 deaths, with as many as 240,000 a real possibility. On April 8, the projected cumulative deaths were slashed to about 60,000, with the upper range again cut to about 126,000. In less than a week, the model proved to be off by more than 33 percent.

Remember when the Imperial College of London “experts” said there might be more than two million dead in the United States?

Why can’t news organizations do the simple math necessary to tell the true story of the virus?

The overall infection rate and death rate do not accurately show the nature of the pandemic. In order to compare apples to apples, you divide the number of those infected or dead by the total population of the country.

That shows that the United States is doing a good job when compared with other countries. But an accurate view of the pandemic wouldn’t fit the meme that Trump has been doing a bad job.

Why did New York City experience such a high rate of infection?

Other cities had high incidents of the disease but nothing to compare with New York. At first, it was thought that the virus had come from China. Now it appears that the virus affecting New York and New Jersey was a mutation from Europe. At first, it seemed that the outbreak had started in New Rochelle in the suburbs, but the minority and Hasidic Jewish communities were hard hit. It would be worthwhile to trace the path of the virus in the New York metropolitan area.

Why did Los Angeles have such a low rate of infection?

The rate was much lower than in many parts of the country. Perhaps the dependence on driving and a lack of a public transit system actually helps in a pandemic.

Why did the developing world have such a low rate of infection?

As one Australian newspaper put it: “How does a palm-fringed lagoon in Fiji or New Caledonia sound or perhaps a dive resort in Papua New Guinea, a beachfront hotel in East Timor? The more adventurous might like to try Latvia, Slovakia, Vietnam, or Kuwait. If there weren’t travel bans, of course.”

Why did Germany, which clamped down early, have such a low rate of infection like Sweden, which did virtually nothing? 

Other questions have obvious answers: stupidity.

Why does anyone think the data from China is accurate?

Why did some states close liquor stores?

Why was it all right to use Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome in 2012 while the Wuhan Virus was racist?

The Zoom boom and bust

By Christopher Harper

After the disclosure of deep ties to China and massive disruptions of online meetings, the Zoom boom may be a bust.

I’ve never been a fan of Zoom since I started using it about six months ago for an online class I teach.

For some reason, Temple University recently changed from Webex, a product similar to Zoom that was built by Cisco. No one I asked seemed to know why the change happened. But it probably had to do with the lower cost of Zoom at $19.99 a month vs. $26.95 for Webex. Both services offer free individual downloads.

Now everyone should know about the hazards of using Zoom, particularly after a legal investigation in New York and an FBI warning.

Zoom names every video recording in a similar way, so a simple online search can reveal a long stream of videos.

News organizations and others were able to watch a variety of videos that included therapy sessions; a training orientation for workers doing conferences that included people’s names and phone numbers; small-business meetings that included private company financial statements; and elementary school classes, in which children’s faces, voices, and personal details were exposed.

Many of the videos include personal information and ntimate conversations, recorded in people’s homes. Other videos include nudity.

But there’s more. The inadequate security enabled hackers to join meetings, known as Zoom bombing, to disrupt them with obscene materials and profanity.

But there’s even more. The founder of Zoom is from China and backs up some of the information on servers there. Moreover, a major part of Zoom’s research and development occurs in China, which is likely to have some means of cracking the codes.

I have stopped using Zoom, but I have been unable to convince my colleagues that the program is a bad idea.

I don’t agree with Elon Musk and New York City about much of anything. But both of them have at least banned the use of Zoom over privacy and security issues. I also don’t trust the founder of Zoom to fix the issues any time soon.

Candidate Cuomo

The hashtag #PresidentCuomo has been trending on Twitter.

Musings about Cuomo as the Democrat nominee have come from everywhere on the left, including DaTimes columnist Maureen Dowd and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.

If Democrats think Andrew Cuomo is the answer to their Joe Biden problem, think again!

The Trump ad campaign would start with Cuomo’s own words rolling on the screen:

“We’re not gonna make America great again. 

It was never that great. 

We have not reached greatness….”

Even an audience of Cuomo’s supporters booed when he said that in 2018.

But there’s more. Cuomo is an alleged Roman Catholic who supports late-term abortions, same-sex marriage, and divorce. That’s a troubling trifecta for religious conservatives throughout the land. 

But there’s even more.

Cuomo pushed for the NY State Act, which he described as the most stringent gun control law in the United States. 

The New York governor, who has spent nearly all his life in government, has opposed hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking and would stimulate the economy in Upstate New York. All you have to do is drive along the border of Pennsylvania, which fracking is allowed, and New York to see the difference in how much better the economy is south of the border. 

If the Democrats are thinking about appealing to Republicans, here’s Cuomo on what he considers “good” members of the GOP. 

“Their [Republicans’] problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York because that’s not who New Yorkers are.”

If you go to https://www.ontheissues.org/andrew_cuomo.htm, you’ll find a host of issues that would make Cuomo unpalatable for many Americans.

–Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
–Expand Obama Care.
–Opposes school vouchers.
–Tax the wealthy.
–Expand trade with Cuba.
–Supports the Green New Deal.

If the Democrats want to dump Joe and go with Andrew, it’s like trading for a younger Bernie. And think about the possibility that his younger brother, Chris of CNN, might be the White House spokesman. That’s a sobering thought whatever your politics are!

It’s okay to blame the Chinese government

Memo
To: Journalists
Re: China and Covid-19

Here are some suggestions about news coverage going forward:

The pandemic started in China because of inadequate sanitary conditions and a lack of law enforcement.

China’s government covered up the virus as it leaped across the world. If you are going to use Chernobyl as a simile, it’s China’s Chernobyl, not that of the United States.

China silenced doctors and dissidents who tried to publicize news of the virus.

Italy and Iran have high numbers of infections and deaths because both countries created strong relationships with China. The Black Plague started on the old Silk Road; the Wuhan virus started on the new Silk Road.

China has launched a massive disinformation campaign, including calling racist the use of the Wuhan virus. That hasn’t stopped DaTimes’ Paul Krugman from calling it the “Trump virus.”

China claimed it bought time for the rest of the world. No, it didn’t. It misled the world.

China expelled journalists from DaTimes, DaPost, and the Wall Street Journal. It was barely a blip on the radar screen because you were frightened China might do the same to your news organization.

The World Health Organization refused for months to declare a pandemic and instead thanked China for “making us safer.” The WHO has refused to allow Taiwan membership, due undoubtedly to Beijing’s influence over the WHO’s purse strings.

Here are some suggestions on what you should report on:

It is only since the outbreak of the pandemic that Americans have learned that China is the primary supplier of U.S. medicines. Eighty percent of America’s “active pharmaceutical ingredients” come from abroad, primarily from China (and India); 45% of the penicillin used in the country is Chinese made; and nearly 100% of the ibuprofen.

America’s broader economic dependence on China needs to be reduced. Materials such as rare earths, 80% of which come from China, should be produced at home when possible, while the U.S. military needs to limit its exposure to Chinese goods for everything from transistors to tire rubber.

Washington must ensure that China does not capture the global semiconductor chip-making industry, which is a priority for Beijing. To surrender a vital part of the digital economy would put America in a position of permanent dependence on China.

It’s time to stop pandering to China!