May 31, 2020

by Steve Stofka

There are three kinds of rage: the silent and composed rage of men who kneel on necks. Derek Chauvin, the killer of George Floyd in Minneapolis, belongs to that group. There is another group that loots and destroys to express their rage. There is yet another group that displays their rage in organized protest. On Saturday in Minneapolis, that group cleaned up the debris left by the looters Friday night. A CBS reporter was disheartened, or bored, by the lack of violence.

Those in the first two groups – the destroyers – are mostly men. Those in the first group – the quiet destroyers – are middle-aged men who rob others of life, dignity, and basic human rights. They destroy the self-esteem and social cohesion of others. Those in the last group, the noisy ragers, are young, shot full of testorone and unmuzzled. Neither of these groups cleans up after the wreckage they leave behind. Their instinct is to break, not build.

A hundred years ago white people in Tulsa, Oklahoma took out their rage at the success of the black community in their town (Brown, 2018). They burned down most of the black owned businesses and homes, killing more than 300 people and leaving thousands homeless. Rage and revenge provoked many lynchings of black citizens by white mobs. In 1963, white people in Alabama threw rocks at black children trying to go to school (Bell, 2013).

It’s been almost four years since Philando Castile was shot in his car by a police officer in St. Paul. It’s a 20 minute drive across the river from the site of Castile’s death to George Floyd’s death this week in the sister city of Minneapolis. Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who shot Castile, was found not guilty of 2nd degree manslaughter. Derek Gauvin, the murderer of George Floyd, has been charged with 3rd degree manslaughter. Unlike 2nd degree manslaughter, the prosecution does not have to prove intent.

Over 1200 black people have been shot by police in the past five years (Code Switch, NPR, 2020). Only four police officers have been convicted of some crime (MPV, n.d.). Many victims were going about their day when police officers targeted them. Guilty of being black. Some, like Tamir Rice, were children. Such is the rage of white society that they will not let black children play with toy guns.

Mr. Trump, the self-styled King of the United States, threatened to shoot black people for looting stores on Main Street (Lichtman, 2020). White people looting in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles on Saturday night were arrested and loaded into police wagons. Don’t shoot white people. White people stood on charred police cars and took selfies. How many likes could they get?

Four hundred years of white rage against black people. Four hundred years of systemic looting of black labor through slavery and forced prison labor. Two hundred years of vandalism of black communities through housing discrimination and vicious lending practices. When will the rain extinguish the rage in our spirit?



Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

Bell, D. (2013, June 11). George Wallace Stood in a Doorway at the University of Alabama 50 Years Ago Today. US News & World Report. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/press-past/2013/06/11/george-wallace-stood-in-a-doorway-at-the-university-of-alabama-50-years-ago-today

Brown, D. (2018, September 28). ‘They was killing black people’. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2018/09/28/feature/they-was-killing-black-people/

Code Switch. (2020, May 30). A Decade Of Watching Black People Die. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2020/05/29/865261916/a-decade-of-watching-black-people-die

Lichtman, A. (2020, May 29). The ugly history of Trump’s ‘looting/shooting’ threat. Retrieved from https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-ugly-history-trumps-loot-shoot-threat-20200529-64c2wp6vhjeazigbgega76r33q-story.html

MPV. (n.d.). Police killed more than 100 unarmed black people in 2015. Mapping Police Violence. Retrieved from https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/unarmed

What’s Really Going On

May 24, 2020

by Steve Stofka

In the latest cable news media surveys, Fox News had 3.7 million prime time viewers, outdistancing cable news/talk outlets CNN and MSNBC (Watson, 2020). Traditional broadcast networks ABC and NBC have 12 million viewers, three times the number of Fox viewers and six times that of MSNBC and CNN (Koblin, 2020). For the 21 million households that have never had cable TV, broadcast news is their only choice.

The Fox News model courts conspiracy theorists, salacious news and rumor. In any country, there is a pool of people eager to believe speculation if it conforms to their sentiments. There are two kinds of conspiracy theorists: those who don’t know any better and those have seen it all and do know better. Conspiracies join the old and the young. 

At first I dismissed speculation that President Johnson would send thousands of young men like myself to their deaths to bolster his political reputation. He secretly taped many phone conversations in the White House. His own words substantiate the claims (Sanger, 2001).

After President Nixon’s landslide victory over Democratic rival George McGovern in 1972, rumors circulated that Nixon had ordered a burglary and wiretapping of  Democratic National Committee headquarters. That’s how Nixon won. Oh, come on. Sore losers. McGovern ran a bad campaign. Within months, those rumors became the subject of public hearings. After Nixon had resigned because he lost party support, some Republicans I spoke with still believed that Watergate was a hoax, Democratic payback for getting trounced in the election. Really? I asked. I was too young to understand, they said.

After yet another trouncing of the Democratic candidate in the 1984 Presidential election, rumors circulated that the Reagan White House was selling weapons to Iran to get money to support the right wing Contra rebels in Nicaragua (Wikipedia, n.d.). The Democrats in Congress had blocked funding for the Contras, but there were any number of ways that the administration could secretly route money to the rebels. Why would White House officials use Iran as a go-between? The country’s head of state had called us the devil. Sore losers, those Democrats. Vicious rumors against the President.

In response to the subsequent Iran-Contra investigation, White House officials destroyed many documents relating to the affair. After several years of denial, Reagan finally acknowledged that there had been such an arrangement but never admitted that he knew about it.

In 2004, rumors circulated that President George Bush concocted evidence so that he could go to war in Iraq and kill Saddam Hussein, the dictator who had tried to kill Bush’s dad in 1993. A ridiculous story meant to take down a President before the election. Democrats were still angry that a conservative Supreme Court had given the Presidency to George Bush in the 2000 election. The sacrifice of so many Iraqi and American lives because of the President’s spite? Come on, gimme a break.

Did Bush go to war with Iraq as payback? Probably not. Did the Bush team manipulate the evidence for going to war? Where are the Weapons of Mass Destruction that Saddam Hussein had hidden? Still hidden.

Why do conspiracy theories persist through the centuries? Many of us like puzzles. There are elements of truth in some conspiracy theories. Are conspiracy  theories true most of the time? No. Is prayer effective most of the time? No. It only has to work a small amount of the time and people pray. Why not? Can’t hurt. If a prayer cost $100, would there be fewer prayers?

Martin Luther protested the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church to those faithful who were concerned for the health of their everlasting souls.  People who could afford such indulgences were guaranteed a place in heaven. Those who were poor might be condemned to an eternity in hell. He sparked a movement that rejected the intermediation of clergy between each person and God.

Why do people need the intermediation of scientists between each person and the truth?  Scientists can be wrong. That’s the opinion of some Fox News hosts. If scientists are wrong 5% of the time, that is a reason to have doubt, isn’t it? Using the methods of conspiracy theorists, I only need a slim chance of error to disbelieve scientists, and a slim chance of truth to believe a conspiracy theory. Casinos depend on this kind of thinking to make their profits.

Rupert Murdoch is the billionaire head of News Corp, and the owner of Fox News. He is a smart man who understands that the presentation of the news is as important as the news itself. He is a pragmatic man. Anticipating a win by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, Mr. Murdoch was fashioning Fox News into a more moderate news outlet (Folkenflik, 2017).

In reaction to Mr. Trump’s unexpected win, he turned Fox News into a megaphone for the White House and the Conspiracy-Theorist-In-Chief, Donald J. Trump. Fox News is the only network to grow its audience each year. That’s smart. Give people what they want. 

Is Fox News spinning fewer fairy tales that feature the President as the saving hero? Lately, he has attacked the network on Twitter because they are not doing enough to get him and other Republicans elected this year (Ward, 2020). Yes, he wrote that. Will the network give the hero of the fairy tale what he wants?

This post has been corrected. An earlier version incorrectly stated that Disney now owned Fox News. The network was not included in the deal when Disney bought 21st Century Fox earlier this year. Thanks to a reader for noting the error.



Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

Folkenflik, D. (2017, March 14). Murdoch And Trump, An Alliance Of Mutual Interest. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/14/520080606/murdoch-and-trump-an-alliance-of-mutual-interest

Koblin, J. (2020, March 24). The Evening News Is Back. N.Y.Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/24/business/media/coronavirus-evening-news.html

Sanger, D. E. (2001, November 6). New Tapes Indicate Johnson Doubted Attack in Tonkin Gulf. N.Y. Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/06/us/new-tapes-indicate-johnson-doubted-attack-in-tonkin-gulf.html. (See U. Virginia entry for transcriptions.)

U.S. Senate. (2019, December 12). Watergate Leaks Lead to Open Hearings. Retrieved from https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/Watergate_Investigation.htm

U. Virginia. (n.d.). The Presidential Recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson. Retrieved from https://prde.upress.virginia.edu/content/johnson. (Paywall – summaries free).

Ward, M. (2020, May 21). Trump attacks Fox News for ‘doing nothing to help Republicans, and me,’ get reelected. Politico. Retrieved from https://www.politico.com/news/2020/05/21/trump-attacks-fox-news-doing-nothing-to-help-republicans-in-november-273612

Watson, A. (2020, May 18). U.S. cable news network viewership 2020. Statista. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/373814/cable-news-network-viewership-usa/

Wikipedia. (2020, May 14). Iran–Contra affair. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran–Contra_affair

The View From Here

May 17, 2020

by Steve Stofka

The editorial page of the Wall St Journal criticized the provision in the CARES act that paid an additional $600 in unemployment benefits to working people told to stay home by their state and local governments (WSJ, 2020). An attack on a policy that supports people during this historic crisis is a personal attack on working families. Some workers are earning more in benefits than they did when working. This offends elitist sympathies. As families overwhelm the resources of food banks nationwide, the country club set worry about the moral hazard of providing an income of basic sustenance to those forced to stay home. What level of hell birthed such sentiments?

When governments order people to stop working, they have a responsibility for monetary damages as well as some compensation for pain and suffering. Some in our country’s aristocracy prefer a system that makes people desperate to work in order to eat and pay their bills. Such workers will be more inclined to compromise their safety and return to work. Who will clean the bathrooms and offices of the executives that own America?

Almost a hundred years ago the German director Fritz Lang painted a dystopian account of social and economic classes in his film “Metropolis.” Each day the workers descended into the underground to keep the machinery of the city running. Above ground, the sons of the elite enjoyed sporting contests and idle pleasures. 

In a past century the elite wore powdered wigs and flared waistcoats to distinguish themselves from the commoners. On the jogging paths in Central Park they might be indistinguishable from other runners. Unlike aliens from another planet the patrician class look human. Their attitudes are not.

State and local governments mandated business closures. Losing a job includes the loss of someone’s employer-sponsored insurance. The $1200 stimulus payment covered one month of COBRA replacement insurance for a family (Garfield, 2020). The elite write these barbaric rules.

To protect themselves, the elite left their tony neighborhoods in crowded Manhattan and Brooklyn (Quealy, 2020). Are they spending quality time at their homes in the Hamptons? The social and economic hierarchy of this world has changed little from the century old society that F. Scott Fitzgerald captured in The Great Gatsby.

As Fitzgerald wrote, the privileged believe that they deserve their entitlements. To criticize such thinking is Socialism or Communism. The elite claim to be the moral standard bearers of the country, the high priests of a religion they call Capitalism. Whatever serves their self-interest is enfolded into that religion. Whatever does not serve their interests is an ism that is un-American. To appease their god, the priests need the sacrifice of thousands of families. Let the subservient workers shed their concerns for their safety and shuffle to their daily toil. So sayeth the precious persons of privilege.


Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

Garfield, R., Claxton, G., Damico, A., & Levitt, L. (2020, May 12). Eligibility for ACA Health Coverage Following Job Loss. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/eligibility-for-aca-health-coverage-following-job-loss/. Key highlights by one of the authors https://twitter.com/larry_levitt/status/1261303328425689088?s=21

Quealy, K. (2020, May 15). The Richest Neighborhoods Emptied Out Most as Coronavirus Hit New York City. NY Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/05/15/upshot/who-left-new-york-coronavirus.html

WSJ Editorial Board. (2020, May 14). Opinion | Pelosi’s Presidential Platform. Wall St. Journal.  Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/pelosis-presidential-platform-11589499163 (Paywall).

Making Sense

May 10, 2020

by Steve Stofka

65 years ago, the scientist and author Isaac Asimov published a novel “The Naked Sun” (Asimov, 1956 – Wikipedia).  A robot detective investigates a murder on Solaria where the inhabitants rarely have physical contact with each other. They teleconference via holograph TV. How did we become characters in a science fiction novel?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is closed but online visitors can look at some of the collections (MetMuseum, n.d.). Via Zoom, patients can have HIPAA-compliant remote sessions with their therapist (Zoom, 2020). When a friend had a fever, his doctor performed a preliminary screening remotely. Some questions. Tilt your laptop screen down a bit. Hold your head in that position. Good. Open wide and turn slightly to your right. Shine your flashlight down. Hold it there. Turn back toward me. Tilt your head down and to the left. Ok.

The monthly employment was released on Friday. In two months, the unemployment rate went from less than 4%, one of the best in the past century, to 15%, the same level as 1940, when eleven years of a Depression economy had ground the American spirit into a permanent state of disbelief. Industrial production in April was the lowest ever recorded. Annualized auto sales dropped below the levels of the financial crisis in 2008-9.

This country is a world leader in data collection. “Just the facts, ma’am” was an iconic trope of the mid-century TV show “Dragnet.” Because this is the land of so many uncomfortable truths, we shy away from facts. This is the land where boosterism was invented. Thousands of people were drawn to Midwest and western towns by exaggerated claims of opportunity (NEH, n.d.). The taking of land from native peoples, the dismal performance of untrained cavalry in battle against the Plains Indians, and the repeated breaking of treaties were conveniently suffocated by editors and publishers who wanted to appeal to newly arrived European immigrants on the east coast. Those who reported the facts were asked to change their stories to make the settlers and the soldiers look heroic. If Indian people had bought books and magazines, the editors might have portrayed them in a better light.

In the 19th century, most people grew their own food. It was and is hard work. After exhausting the soil many families either worked for a larger farmer or moved to another area and started again. Slavery was a convenient institution for an agricultural economy. Centuries of abuse by Southern landowners were buried in the landfill of American history.

For the next century, scholars in economics, history and social studies will tell the story of this pandemic. High school students will have to remember facts about the pandemic and produce an essay of 250 words for the AP history exam. The people who suffered through the pandemic will be marked by a million graves in cemeteries across the country.  The businesses that faltered and fell will be forgotten.

The economic data produced during this era will become a benchmark for future generations. A record drop in employment, in production, in retail sales, etc. The policies enacted in response to this crisis will certainly influence future generations. Our institutions are shackled by the chains of historical crises.

Former Presidential candidate Andrew Yang ran on a platform of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a monthly payment to all Americans as a substitute for the dozens of housing, food and education subsidies that clog our bureaucracy and contaminate our politics. His supporters –  the Yang Gang – continue to support this common sense platform. It is simple. It gives people dignity and some control. Mr. Yang could not gain popular traction among Democratic voters. The party thrives on complex bureaucratic programs that require a lot of administrative staff. Simplicity is a long word that many Democratic politicians cannot spell.

Had such a monthly program been in place, a lot of suffering might have been avoided.  The IRS reports that it has sent out stimulus checks to one-third of the population (Keshner, 2020). Are you in the fortunate group who has received the funds? Millions of people are waiting for their stimulus check. Millions of applicants anxiously await their unemployment checks. The state systems are overwhelmed by the number of people applying for benefits. Food banks are reporting even more demand than they experienced during the financial crisis.

We live in a highly developed and educated society, but we respond to crisis with our monkey brains. Each of us has a unique sense of what is fair, and injustice triggers our sense of outrage. Politicians know this. They work hard to control the policy levers. They need us to vote for them. A monthly check to everyone does not secure political loyalty from anyone. Mr. Yang, stop making sense!


Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash

Asimov, I. (1956). The Naked Sun. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Naked_Sun

Keshner, A. (2020, May 8). IRS has paid out over $218 billion in stimulus checks. Retrieved from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-irs-has-already-paid-out-over-half-the-stimulus-check-money-heres-where-it-went-2020-04-24

Metropolitan Museum of Art. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.metmuseum.org/

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). (n.d.). Boosterism on the Prairie. Retrieved from https://publications.newberry.org/makebigplans/node/3162

Zoom. (2020, April). Video Conferencing, Web Conferencing, Webinars, Screen Sharing. Retrieved from http://zoom.us/. HIPAA Compliance Document. https://zoom.us/docs/doc/Zoom-hipaa.pdf

A Turn to Normal

May 3, 2020

by Steve Stofka

Deaths from the Covid-19 virus passed a milestone this week. More people have died from the virus than the number of Americans who died fighting the Vietnam War (Strochlic, 2020). I wanted to compare that with other gruesome milestones.

One hundred years ago, the Spanish flu killed 675,000 Americans (CDC, 2019). 62,000 were World War 1 soldiers, more than the number of war casualties (Gilbert, 1998). That is our next milestone. The flu was called the Spanish flu only because newspapers in neutral Spain first reported the disease (Flanagan, 2020). Under wartime restrictions, the media in other countries were not allowed to report the casualties.

Some talking heads have portrayed this disease as just a bad flu. Is it? During the moderately bad 2018-2019 flu season there were 490,000 people hospitalized (CDC, 2019/01). The 2017-2018 flu season was severe. The CDC estimates that 800,000 people were hospitalized for that season’s flu (CDC, 2019/11).  The agency reports 136,000 people hospitalized for Covid-19 (CDC, 2020). That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

 New York City has about 40,000 Covid-19 hospitalizations, 3/8ths of those in the entire country (NYC, 2020). A 2012 survey by the city identified about 26,000 hospital beds (NYC-IBO, 2012). Large city mayors around the country look in horror at the refrigerated trucks parked outside some NYC hospitals to hold the dead bodies.  

Nine million people live in NYC. The Census Bureau estimates that there are 327 million Americans, more than 30 times the number living in NYC. I will use a 20x multiplier instead of 30x. Multiplying 136,000 Covid-19 hospitalizations by 20 produces 2.7 million hospitalizations, 3-1/2 times the severe flu season of 2017-18.

The American Hospital Association estimates that there are about one million beds in the U.S. (AHA, 2020). In an emergency, hospitals can increase their bed count but not when the emergency is a highly infectious disease. Areas of the hospital must be set aside exclusively for Covid-19 patients.

The first wave of the Spanish flu epidemic washed over the U.S. in the spring of 1918. The tsunami – the killing wave – came in the fall of that year, when many people thought the worst had passed.  We all want to get back to normal, even if that is a new normal. We hope that normal does not invite abnormal.



Photo by 丁亦然 on Unsplash

AHA. (2020, February). Fast Facts on U.S. Hospitals, 2020: AHA. Retrieved from https://www.aha.org/statistics/fast-facts-us-hospitals

CDC. (2020, January 8). Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths in the United States – 2018–2019 influenza season. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/2018-2019.html

CDC. (2019, March 20). 1918 Pandemic (H1N1 virus). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html

CDC. (2019, November 22). Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths in the United States – 2017–2018 influenza season. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/2017-2018.htm

CDC. (2020, April 24). COVID-View Weekly Summary. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html

Flanagan, E. (2020, March 14). Spanish flu: How Belfast newspapers reported 1918 pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-51818777

Gilbert, M. (1998). A history of the twentieth century. London: HarperCollins. (p. 532).

NYC. (2020, May 1). COVID-19: Data. Retrieved from https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data.page

NYC-IBO. (2012, November 15). How Many of the City’s Hospitals, and Hospital Beds, Were at Risk During Hurricane Sandy. Retrieved from https://ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/printnycbtn5.pdf

Strochlic, N. (2020, April 28). U.S. coronavirus deaths now surpass fatalities in the Vietnam War. National Geographic. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/04/coronavirus-death-toll-vietnam-war-cvd/