CORONAVIRUS UPDATE X

As I write this, it appears that maybe, possibly, we have passed the worst.  President Trump and members of the task force have reported that there is a “light at the end of the tunnel.”  That is not to say that today’s news is all positive.  As you will see, there is plenty of negative news to go with the positive.  As always, I have compiled what follows from various news sources, including the Washington Post, NY Times, CNN, ABC news and Fox News, among others.

  1.  According to Worldometer as I write this there have been approximately 1.5 million cases of CV worldwide with some 82,000 fatalities.  For the US the approximate numbers are 423,000 and 15,000, respectively.  The US recorded some 2,000 each for Tuesday and yesterday, which was the highest single day total for any country at any point in this pandemic.  Also, the US has recorded roughly 3X the cases of the next highest country, Spain, but it has suffered fewer deaths than Spain and Italy.
  2. Within the US NY continues to record the highest number of cases and fatalities of any state.  Its 150,000 cases are 3X the next highest state, and its fatalities are 4X (NJ in both instances).  Moreover, it has about the same number of cases as Spain, which has the second-most of any country.
  3.  Wednesday, NY reported its single highest daily number of fatalities, 779, which brought the overall total to 6,268.  To put that in perspective, that is more than twice the fatalities recorded on 9/11.  Despite those grim numbers there is cause for optimism as the number of hospitalizations, which is viewed as a precursor, is falling.
  4. Other previous hotspots, such as CA and Louisiana, appear to be flattening their curves as well.  On the other hand, new hotspots appear to be emerging in the Philiadelphia and DC-Baltimore metro areas.
  5. Despite all that grim news Drs. Fauci and Birx are optimistic.  They reported that we could be approaching a turning point.  Moreover, there is growing evidence that the “curve” is “flatttening” in the US.  The new model projects only 60,000 US fatalities.  You may recall that not long ago this model was projecting between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths. They attributed this primarily to our strict observation of the mitigation guidelines.  However, they urged against complacency lest we suffer a resurgence.
  6.  Bi-lateral support is growing for an additional emergency package, although there are differences of opinion as to the amount and content.
  7.  Many Americans have expressed concern as to how and when life will return to pre-CV days.  Dr. Fauci has disclosed that the task force is discussing a “framework” for such an event.
  8. Currently, the largest concentration of CV can be found, not in any city but in the Cook County jail in Chicago (387).  This illustrates a major dilemma.  On the one hand, prisoner safety is such an issue that many governors have authorized the release of many convicts who, based on the crimes for which they were convicted, should be retained in prison.  One the other hand, these prisoners represent a clear and present danger to law-abiding citizens.  One might say that these governors are valuing the safety of the convicted over that of the law-abiding.
  9.  College students at several universities are organizing a tuition strike.  They are asserting that the on-line education they are now getting is inferior to the real thing, and they don’t want to pay the same tuition for it.
  10. Dr. Birx stated she was “in awe” of Americans’ ability to radically change their behavior in order to conform to the mitigation guidelines.  However, while being interviewed on ABC she expressed concern over the high number of cases (1,440) and fatalities (27) in the DC-Baltimore metro area.  She attributed it to the fact that many residents there were not complying fully with the guidelines on social distancing.
  11.  Belatedly, the CV has invaded rural America.  Some 2/3 of the country’s rural counties have now reported cases and about 10% of them have reported at least one fatality.  The concern is that a substantial outbreak could overwhelm these areas, many of which have limited medical facilities and personnel.  This will bear watching prospectively.
  12.  There are reports that the NYC theatre district could reopen for business as early as June.  That would be a real shot in the arm to the city’s economy and its psyche.
  13. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has reported that since January 29 the State Department has repatriated some 50,000 American citizens who were stranded in some 90 foreign countries.  Repatriation efforts are ongoing.
  14. Immigration officials have begun to release detained illegal immigrants who are thought to be at risk to contract CV.
  15. Due to an unexpected sudden surge in demand many food banks are running short of funds and supplies.
  16. England’s PM Boris Johnson is reported to be “clinically stable” and “responding to treatment” for the CV.  That is very good news.
  17. Airlines have been plagued with empty seats. Recently, I saw a story where one flight had just one passenger.  Most of them have sharply reduced the number of flights.  Delta has announced that for the time being it will not sell the middle seat on its flights in order to facilitate “social distancing.”
  18. The state of Vermont has been designated as a “disaster area.”  It is the 47th state to do so, leaving only Alaska, Idaho and Wyoming.  This bears watching as the US has never had a 50-state disaster situation.
  19.  Texas Governor Greg Abbott told journalists that the state is now at the “high water mark” for both new cases and fatalities.
  20.  In yet another cruise ship disaster an Australian ship, “Greg Mortimer,” which was sailing to Antarctica reported that 60% of its passengers were infected with CV.
  21.  FL Governor Ron DeSantis has announced that the state will convert the Miami Beach Convention Center into a 450-bed temporary facility (expandable to 1,000 beds) to treat CV patients.  He also plans to ramp up testing substantially.
  22. As part of the federal government’s ongoing efforts to coordinate with the private sector General Motors has agreed to produce and sell 30,000 ventilators to the federal government for $490 million.
  23.  A Kenyan factory that was making gardening clothes has retooled to make 30,000 surgical masks a day.

CONCLUSION

For the most part, Americans have put aside their differences and united to fight the common enemy, CV.  Many have voluntarily sacrificed economically for the greater good.  Most have diligently observed the mitigation guidelines.  All of these efforts appear to have borne fruit as the number of cases and fatalities have been lower than even the most optimistic estimates.

A recently-released  Monmouth University poll disclosed:

  1. An overwhelming  majority (72%) approved of their respective state’s governor’s handling of the CV.
  2.  Their rating of President Trump was evenly split (46% approve, 49% disapprove) and, not surprisingly, highly partisan.  87% of Republicans, 45% of independents and 16% of Dems approved of his performance.
  3. Respondents were not particularly trusting of any officials.  Dr. Fauci was highest at only 35%, followed by Cuomo (23%), Trump (20%) and Dr. Birx (14%).  Those results are mystifying to me, especially with respect to Drs. Fauci and Birx, but there it is.

I am mystified and troubled by the controversy over the drug, hydroxychloroquine.  I understand that it has not gone through all the blind testing that the FDA normally requires for new drugs.  However, it has been safely prescribed for malaria and lupus for 65 years, with superb results, and currently, it is being used to treat some CV patients with very positive results.  The most recent success story involves Dr. Marc Siegel’s 96 year old father.  He was gravely ill with CV, near death.  After one day of CV he felt immeasurably better.

Yet, many in the media insist on denigrating it as unproven, experimental and unsafe.  Cuomo has gone so far as to ban pharmacies in NY from dispensing it even with a doctor’s prescription.   NYers are the only ones in the country who are required to get it at a hospital.  I believe those naysayers are only criticizing it because President Trump has been touting it. They are doing Americans a grave disservice.

Personally, I strongly believe it is critical for Americans to return to normalcy as soon as possible.  It will benefit us economically, socially, emotionally and psychologically.  Furthermore, I am not aware that we shut down the entire economy during any other previous pandemic or epidemic, not even for polio and smallpox, which had considerably higher death rates.   In my opinion, widespread use of the newly developed five-minute testing, antibodies of cured patients, and the much-maligned hydroxychloroquine could be key elements in returning us to normalcy,

I hope the task force and other advisors can develop a safe, prudent plan sooner rather than later.  Our way of life depends on it.

MARCEL MARCEAU

He was a world-famous entertainer.  He was best known as a mime artist, certainly the best of his time, and arguably the best ever, except for the legendary silent film star, Charlie Chaplin.  However, he was more than just a mime.  He was an accomplished actor, tv personality, author, and teacher, mostly in his native France but also all over the world.  He entertained us for more than 60 years.  But, I believe his most significant contribution to posterity was as a member of the French resistance during WWII.  Read on, and you see what I mean.

Marcel Mangel was born in Strasbourg, France on March 22, 1923 to working-class Jewish parents.  His father was a kosher butcher who had emigrated from Poland.  His mother was from present-day Ukraine.  He was a cousin of well-known Israeli folk and pop music singer Yardena Azazi on his mother’s side.

Marceau recalled that he became interested in mime at the age of five when his mother took him to see a Charlie Chaplin film.  He was “entranced,” and knew then and there what career he would pursue.

When Germany invaded France in 1940 Marceau’s family fled to Limoges, which is in the west-central part of the country.  Later, in Paris, Marceau studied under Yvonne Hagnauer an educator who saved many people from the Nazis during WWII.  (After the war the State of Israel, in recognition of her actions, honored her with the designation “Righteous among the Nations.”)

The Nazis captured Marceau’s parents in 1944 and deported them to Auschwitz.  His father was murdered in the camp, but his mother survived.

In Limoges Marcel hooked up with his younger brother, Alain, and they joined the French Jewish Resistance.  They changed their last name to Marceau in honor of Francois Severin Marceau-Desgraviers, who was a general during the French revolution.

Marcel was not an experienced fighter or marksman.  However, he did have a talent that was much more valuable to the resistance.  He was a superb artist, which meant he was very adept at producing forged documents.  As we know, forged documents that looked authentic enough to withstand detailed scrutiny were essential for Jews and others attempting to escape or even hide in place.

During the remainder of the war the brothers rescued hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews, mostly children, from the camps or from hiding places by guiding them over the Alps from France to neutral Switzerland and safety.   Marcel saved many more by providing them with the aforementioned forged documents.  Moreover, on several occasions he employed his mime skills to quiet and calm nervous children so as to avoid capture.

After the war Marcel commenced to pursue his chosen career.  He studied at the prestigious Charles Dullin School of Dramatic Art in the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris under renowned instructors such as Jean-Louis Barrault, Etienne Decroux and Joshua Smith.  In 1947 he created his signature character, “Bip the Clown.”  “Bip” would come out dressed in a “striped pullover and a battered be-flowered silk opera hat.”  During the act “Bip” would suffer through a series of humorous “misadventures.”  The character was a huge hit, and it became his “alter ego” reminiscent of Chaplin’s “Little Tramp.”

Marcel became very popular, and he soon became recognized as a mime “without peer.”  During an interview with CBS in 1987 he described mime as “the art of silence.”  One critic gushed, “he accomplishes in less than two minutes what most novelists cannot do in volumes.”   Marcel would modestly give credit to Chaplin for paving the way.

Before long, Marcel became an international star, performing what he termed “mimodramas” all over the world. His first tour in the US drew record-breaking crowds.  He made various appearances on tv shows with entertainers such as Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas, and Red Skelton (who was also a superb mime).  He and Skelton performed together in three concerts of pantomimes.  As a young boy I remember seeing Marcel on tv on “The Red Skelton Show.”

Marcel was much more than the best mime of his generation.  For example:

  1. He wrote two children’s books.
  2. He published a book of his paintings and sketches.  Much of his artwork is on display in museums.
  3.  In 1969 he established his first school of mime in Paris, which also included fencing, acrobatics and ballet.  It only lasted two years, but in 1978 he established a second school.
  4.  In 1996 he established the Marceau Foundation to promote the art of mime in the US.
  5. He appeared in several movies, both in France and the US.  The one that American audiences may recall was “Barbarella,” in 1968, which starred a scantily-clad Jane Fonda.  The other notable movie was called, appropriately, “Silent Movie” (1976).   Ironically, Marcel, the world-renown mime, spoke the only word in the entire movie, “non.”
  6.  He became a close friend of entertainer, Michael Jackson who told an interviewer he had always been “in awe” of Marceau’s “skill as a performer.”
  7.  Marcel was the recipient of countless awards, testimonials, and honorary degrees, too many to list here.  One, however, stands out.  The University of Michigan awarded him the Wallenberg Medal in recognition of his humanitarianism and acts of courage in saving numerous refugees, both Jews and non-Jews during WWII.  His wartime exploits were portrayed in a recent tv movie, “Resistance,” starring Jesse Eisenberg as Marceau.  It is available on Netflix.  I strongly recommend it.

Conclusion

Marcel was married three times and fathered four children.  He also had a decades-long relationship with female mime Paulette Frankl who described their long relationship in a memoir released in 2014.

Marcel passed away in a retirement home in Cahors, France on September 22, 2007.  As I said, despite his outstanding 60 year entertainment career, I maintain his greatest contribution was in guiding numerous refugees to safety during WWII.  Think how many people are alive today because of the bravery and unique talent Marcel Marceau.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE IX

We are now entering the fourth month of the pandemic with no end in sight.  In fact, most areas have not even reached their projected peaks.  Doctors Fauci and Birx and most all other medical experts predict the worst is yet to come.  More on that later.

As always, the below information is a compendium of reports from various news sources, including the NY Times, CNN, Fox News, CBS and many others.

  1. According to “Worldometer” worldwide cases now exceed 1.1 million with fatalities approaching 60,000.  In the US the numbers are 300,000 and 8,000, respectively, with 1,300 fatalities just in the last 24 hours. The virus has been moving very fast, so by the time you read this the numbers will likely be higher, perhaps considerably so.  The medical experts are predicting as many as 200,000 US deaths before the virus has run its course, which is truly frightening.
  2. NYS is still far and away the hardest hit state with some 115,000 cases (40% of the entire US) and approximately 3,600 deaths (nearly half of the US total).  To put those numbers in perspective, that is more then 3X the number of cases and 4X the number of fatalities of the next highest state, which is neighboring NJ.  Other “hot spots” include CA, LA, MI, FL, WA and MA.
  3. Clearly, there is a severe problem with NY and the NYC metro area.  There are many theories as to why.  I outlined my opinion in a previous blog, and there is no need to repeat it here.  Recently, NYS Governor Cuomo told the NY Times that he expects the state to reach “the worst point” of the crisis “within a week or so.”   We’ll see.  I have my doubts.  So far, Cuomo’s record regarding the virus has been mixed at best.
  4.  Although some areas are likely approaching, are at, or have passed their peaks new “hot spots” will probably emerge, perhaps in PA, CO and Washington, DC.
  5.  Forty-two states plus DC have issued stay-at-home orders, encompassing some 95% of the country’s population.  Dr. Fauci thinks the others should do so as well, but it is within the discretion of the states’ governors.
  6.  Presently, some 114 cruise ships are stranded off-shore near FL unable to dock.  They are carrying an unknown number of infected patients, but also many healthy ones.
  7. Great Britain reported 708 fatalities in the most recent 24 hour period, a record.
  8.  As of now, the Wisconsin primaries, which are scheduled for next Tuesday, will be proceeding as scheduled despite the state’s “stay-at- home order” and a shortage of polling place workers.  How will that affect the validity of the results?
  9. Tragically, a Detroit bus driver who had contracted the virus from a passenger who coughed on him repeatedly, has died.
  10.  In a controversial action Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has allowed the state’s beaches to reopen.  Officials will be relying on “social distancing” to keep people safe, a dubious prospect.
  11.  As most of you know, Italy was one of the first countries outside of China to develop into a “hot spot” for the virus.  Now, officials feel the number of infections has plateaued.  They are hoping to reopen the country’s economy.  They are considering a universal blood test.  Only those whose blood  contains the antibodies to the virus will be authorized to return to work.
  12. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn’s views on masks:  (a) Their chief benefit is that they prevent one from touching his or her face, which is a big “no-no.”  (b) They prevent people who are asymptomatic from infecting others. (c) They can give one a false sense of security, so it is crucial to maintain social distancing when wearing them.
  13. Regarding treatments, Dr. Hahn added that the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, can be beneficial when prescribed by a doctor.  Also, he noted that using plasma from patients who had recovered from the virus, has had some success, and a generally-available vaccine is still a year or more away.
  14.  A summary of Dr. Fauci’s comments today on “Face the Nation:” (a) We are close to the apex.  This coming week should be the peak.  The number of cases and deaths will be “shocking.”  Afterwards, the curve should “flatten.” (b)  Continue with the mitigation guidelines, especially regarding hand-washing, social distancing and staying at home.  The mitigation guidelines appear to be working.  (c) Before lifting lockdowns we need to be able to do three things: test, isolate and contact tracing.  (d) He only wears a mask in public situations in which he cannot control social distancing with others. (e) There is a risk that this could develop into a seasonal illness.  Developing reliable therapeutic treatments and a vaccine is crucial.  (f)  There is not yet any definitive proof of hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness.

CONCLUSION

Well, that didn’t take long.  Heretofore, I have tried to refrain from politicizing the situation.  As I said, I believe now is not the time for partisan politics, but it has picked up so much steam I feel compelled to comment.  To wit:

  1. While most Dem politicians have refrained from criticizing President Trump and the federal government stressing the positive rather than the negative, there have been some notable exceptions as discussed below.
  2. Cuomo, De Blasio, and Schumer have been criticizing Mr. Trump, the CDC and other federal agencies for their delay in providing needed medical equipment.  This is disingenuous “BS.”  Each state shares responsibility for preparing for pandemics and other disasters.  As I have discussed in detail in previous blogs NYS’s and NYC’s preparation was woefully inadequate compared to most other states, and its officials were slow to recognize the magnitude of the threat of the virus. Remember, the feds have shipped copious amounts of medical supplies to NY, built five temporary hospitals and provided a massive hospital ship.
  3. CNN, MSNBC, presumptive Dem presidential nominee Joe Biden, the NY Times, the Washington Post and other media outlets have already begun their campaign of distortion.  For example, when President Trump enacted the travel ban at the end of January they decried his action as “racist” and “xenophobic.”  Now, in a futile attempt at revisionist history, they are accusing him of not recognizing the threat and acting on it early enough.  Huh?  They can’t have it both ways.
  4. Pelosi, Schiff and their cohorts in the House announced they will be conducting an investigation of the feds’ response to the virus.  Really?  I know the Congress has the right, or even the duty, to conduct investigations, but now, in the middle of an existential crisis, is not the time.
  5. Based on the last three years, I predict this investigation will devolve into another political “witch hunt” leading up to the election.  I say, at least, wait until the crisis has passed, and we see how it has turned out.
  6. As before, most of the mainstream media will support them regardless of the facts.
  7. Their goal will not be to uncover the truth.  Rather, it will be to distort, muddle and obfuscate the facts with the goal of damaging Mr. Trump sufficiently to prevent him from winning the upcoming presidential election.  Hopefully, voters will not be deceived.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE VIII. SOME GOOD NEWS.

The coronavirus has been dominating the news for months now.   To most observers it seems like the preponderance of the news is bleak.  The virus has developed into a true pandemic.  It has penetrated virtually every country in the world.  A large chunk of the world’s population is on lock-down.  The world’s economy has been virtually shut-down.

According to “Worldometer” worldwide cases now exceed 1 million with some 57,000 deaths.  The US still has reported the most cases, almost 260,000 with approximately 6,600 fatalities.   One reason for the high number of cases in the US is the widespread testing, which is now in excess of 100,000 per day.   In just the last two weeks there have been about 1 million filings for unemployment benefits, and that only includes the people who could get through on the overloaded websites and telephone exchanges.

According to “The Hill” there have been in excess of 1,000 fatalities in the US just in the last 24 hours.  In the opinion of various medical experts the US has not yet passed the “apex of the curve,” so things will likely get worse before they get better.  How much worse, no one, not even these medical experts, knows for sure.  Drs. Fauci and Birx have estimated that the US death toll could reach as high as 200,000 before when all is said and done.  Most of us have been quarantined in our homes, except for emergencies like buying food or seeking medical care, with no end in sight.

Amid this plethora of bad news there has been some good news.  There have been many instances of kindness and generosity by businesses and individuals, most of which have been very sparsely reported.  These deeds have been shunted aside by all the bad news that has been dominating media reports.  These deeds highlight the indominable human spirit even in the bleakest of times.

I would like to give these generous businesses and individuals their due.  Below please find some examples, which I have chosen from various news reports:

  1. Kudos to all the medical workers who have been working valiantly and tirelessly, often at great personal danger to themselves.
  2. Kudos to those who are delivering much needed food and medical supplies.
  3. In NY, which remains the primary hotspot, the military has built temporary hospitals in every borough in an amazingly short period of time.  Also, it has provided a huge hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, which presently is docked on the West Side of Manhattan.
  4.  FEMA has been rushing medical supplies to NYC, including 1 million N95 masks, nearly 2 million surgical masks, 460,000 face shields, 1.4 million gloves and 4,400 ventilators.
  5.  In a previous blog I reported on the instances of hoarding and price gouging and the Department of Justice’s investigation of same.  As a follow-up, the FBI has reported the seizure of thousands of various medical supplies from hoarders.  I would expect the perpetrators to be punished.
  6.  Various celebrities have “stepped up.”  The list is too long to include all of them, but below please find a sampling as reported in “Elle Magazine” and other media outlets:

a. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft brought 1.2 million masks to the US on his team plane.

b.  Arnold Schwarzenegger donated $1 million of medical supplies to hospital workers.

c.  Dolly Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University for coronavirus research.

d.  Various airlines have flown Americans stranded overseas home.

e.  The popular tv show, “The Masked Singer,” donated 10,000 masks.

f.  Many professional sports teams and individual players have covered the salaries of laid-off arena personnel.

g.  Leonardo Di Caprio, in partnership with Apple, Laurene Powell Jobs, and others, established “America’s Food Fund” to provide food to “vulnerable” people.

h. Kylie Jenner donated $1 million to various LA hospitals to pay for various medical supplies.

i.  Rihanna donated $5 million to various organizations, such as WHO, Feeding America and the International Rescue Committee.

j.  Steph Curry and his wife donated $1 million for school meals to kids in Oakland who are missing out on them due to school closures.

7.  The waters in Venice are reportedly clearer and cleaner that in recent memory due to the absence of boats.  Fish have been spotted.

8.  In Britain hoteliers are offering free rooms to medical workers.

9.  Entertainers such as Elton John and John Legend have provided free live concerts from their homes.

10.  Many food stores are opening one hour early to service seniors and the disabled.

11.  A shop in Scotland is providing “COVID-19 kits” containing hand gel and wipes to seniors.

12.  In Copenhagen quarantined people were serenading people from their balconies with the song, “You’ve Got A Friend.”

13.  In Spain quarantined people were playing bingo over a loudspeaker.

14.  Elle reported that, remarkably, three centenarians, 104 year-old WWII veteran William Lapschie, a 103 year-old Iranian woman and a 102 year-old Italian woman have recovered from the virus.

15. NYC’s Metropolitan Opera is streaming old operas.

16.  Germany is flying COVID patients from Italy, which has been overwhelmed, to Germany for treatment.

17.  China has been reopening certain tourist attractions, such as the “Great Wall,” (although I don’t think I would feel comfortable going to China right now).

18.  A British couple whose wedding had been cancelled donated their entire catering to some 400 hospital workers in the area.  Note: they went ahead with their wedding with just two witnesses in attendance instead of the planned 120 guests.

19.  In an event coordinated through social media, last Thursday at 8 pm activity in the UK halted and people gave a huge ovation to UK medical workers in appreciation of their efforts in fighting the virus.

20.  In Copenhagen quarantined residents participated in a group exercise workout from their balconies.

21.  In Massachusetts a “mystery man” bought all the flowers in one florist store that was being forced to close and donated them to residents in the town of Needham.

CONCLUSION

As I said, in the face of adversity many human beings rise to the occasion. Personally, I have noticed more instances of kindness than before.  At the present time, for the most part, people are not separated by politics, economics, race, gender, or “tribes” as they were just mere weeks ago.  Most people realize that defeating this insidious virus will require all of us pulling together.  That time-worn phrase “united we stand, divided we fall” seems very appropriate to this situation.

APRIL FOOLS DAY

This is NOT an April Fools joke. It is a legitimate blog.

As you know, today is April 1, also known as “April Fools Day.”  I like a good joke as much as anyone, but I am not a big fan of pranking people on this date.  Maybe when I was 10, but not now.  But, I was curious about the origins of the holiday, and how it is celebrated around the world.

AFD is not a official holiday in the US, or in any other country, for that matter, but it is widely recognized and celebrated around the world unofficially.  Some people love to play jokes and perpetrate hoaxes.  So, if you hear that President Trump has resigned to focus on building hotels and golf courses, or that James Dolan has sold the NY Knicks, or that China has “forgiven” the US’s debt, don’t believe it.  Those would most certainly be AFD jokes.

Even the media can be a willing participant.  One of my favorite AFD pranks occurred on April 1, 1985.  The “Sports Illustrated” cover story that day was about a baseball pitching phenom named Sidd Finch.  At first, the story appeared to have credibility, as it was written by George Plimpton and published in SI.  Finch was presented as an unknown rookie pitching prospect in the NY Mets training camp.  (At that time Opening Day was later in April.)  So far, so good.  But, as one read the details of the story, particularly about his 160 MPH fastball, it became apparent that it was an AFD joke.

A few other famous, or infamous AFD pranks (courtesy of CNN, which many claim is the “fake news” network anyway):

1. Swiss spaghetti – On 4/1/57 a British tv show called “Panorama” claimed that the Swiss spaghetti harvest had enjoyed a “bumper year,” due to the unusually mild weather and the elimination of the “spaghetti weevil.”  This hoax was ranked the #1 AFD joke of all time by the Museum of Hoaxes.  (Yes, there is such a place.)

2. Toilet paper – On 4/1/73 Johnny Carson joked on the “Tonight Show” that there was a shortage of toilet paper. This hoax was credited with creating a real shortage as many listeners believed him and rushed out to “stock up.”

In 2015 Cottonelle announced it was developing “left-handed toilet paper.”  “It cleans just like right-handed toilet paper, only it’s made for (lefties),” touted one advertisement.

3. Google gulp – In 1998 Google announced a drink called the “Google Gulp,” which, it said, would help one to “achieve maximum optimization of your soon-to-be grateful cerebral cortex,” [and it was] “low in carbs” to boot.

All in good fun!

Surprisingly, there are records of continuous AFD celebrations back as far as 536 BC in present day Iran. They celebrate the Persian holiday of Sizdah Bedar, which falls on the 13th day of the Persian New Year, (April 1). In addition, the Romans celebrated festivals called “Hilaria” on March 25 and the “Medieval Feast of Fools” on December 28. In certain Spanish-speaking countries, the latter is still a date on which pranks are played on people. Finally, there is a reference to the holiday in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” which was first published in 1387.

According to Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes, the Dutch popularized the day in the late 16th century.  By the 1700s it had spread over much of Northern Europe, and eventually to the US.

Nowadays, the holiday is celebrated differently around the world. Some examples are as follows:

1. UK – The April Fool joke is disclosed when the perpetrator shouts “April Fool” at the recipient.  Traditionally, April Fool jokes are to cease at midday.  After that time, anyone trying to prank someone becomes the “April Fool” himself.  These AFD customs are similar in other countries whose traditions were influenced by the UK, such as the US.

2. Scotland – AFD is called “Hunt the Gowk Day.”  “Gowk” is Scots for a foolish person.

3. Ireland – A common tradition is to give the “prankee” an important letter in an envelope to give to a certain person.  That person would ask the “prankee” to give it to another person, and so on and so on.  Eventually, someone would open the envelope.  The letter inside would say “send the fool further.”

4. Poland – Traditionally, April 1 is a day to play jokes and hoaxes.  The media participates as well.  Serious matters are to be avoided.  For example, supposedly, a treaty signed on April 1, 1683 was later backdated to March 31.

5. France/Italy/Belgium – The holiday is called “April Fish,” for some reason.  One common prank is to attach a paper fish to the victim’s back without being detected. (Along these lines, in high school we used to put a “kick me” sign on a victim’s back, although not just on AFD.  Movie buffs may recall that this joke was played on McFly Senior in the movie “Back to the Future.”)

6. Sweden/Denmark – They celebrate on May 1 in addition to April 1. Many Danish and Swedish news outlets will intentionally publish one false story on April 1.

CONCLUSION

AFD can be fun, especially for kids. Even in the current PC era, a little harmless fun never hurt anyone.  That is especially true today as we are all being threatened by the deadly coronavirus.

I recall a few years ago my son told my grandson, who was six at the time and a huge Mets fan, that David Wright had been traded to the hated Yankees. To his credit, my grandson, merely shrugged his shoulders and asked “who for?”

I can remember being both the perpetrator and butt of April fool jokes in grade school and middle school. All in good fun.  I predict that some of you will be victimized today. Maybe you have been already.

Please tell me some of your favorite April fools moments.  Were you the perpetrator or the victim?   I promise you I won’t put it on Facebook.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE VII

As we conclude the third month of the coronavirus pandemic several trends have emerged – some positive, some negative.  To illustrate my point, below please find what I consider to be a sampling of the significant recent events as reported by various news outlets:

  1. As I write this, the estimated total number of cases worldwide as published by “Worldmeter” is approximately 750,000.  Worldwide fatalities are approaching 36,000.  In the US the numbers are 145,000 and 2,600, respectively.  One thousand of those are in NYS.  The totals have been changing by the minute, so by the time you read this they will likely be higher, perhaps, considerably so.
  2. The US is reporting the highest number of cases, although Fox News has reported data  that suggests the rate of increase may be slowing down.  Italy is next at some 98,000 followed by Spain with 85,000.  China’s numbers have been suspect as discussed below.
  3.  Today, the president stated that recently there has been a substantial increase in testing.  Presently, the US is running about 100,000 per day.  To date, it has run one million tests in total.  Furthermore, Abbott Labs has developed a test that gives the result in five minutes.  This is very positive news, since most medical experts agree that massive testing is the key to identifying sick people and ultimately controlling and defeating the virus.
  4. Spain reported that 35 people died per hour over the weekend.  Spanish officials warned that a “period of ‘hibernation’ ” may be required to deal with the virus.   Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that the tighter restrictions were necessary to avoid “the collapse of saturated hospitals” in various regions of the country, particularly Madrid.  He added that these restrictions will last at least until April 9.
  5. On the other hand, reports out of Italy provided a glimmer of hope.  The fatality rate declined for the third consecutive day, and the number of patients seeking critical care dropped substantially.   However, Minister of Health Roberto Speranza added a note of caution.  He announced that the protective measures “will certainly be prolonged.  …. Opening up too soon could burn everything we’ve obtained until now.”
  6.  Curiously, the US death total is “only” 2,605 compared to Italy’s 10,779.  Why?  Perhaps, the quality of diagnosis and treatment is better in the US; or, perhaps, Italy, like some other countries, most notably China, is underreporting the number of cases (intentionally or not); or maybe, it is a combination of the two.  More on this later.
  7.  The situation in NYC remains especially dire.  There have been reports of coronavirus patients being stranded in their homes because the healthcare system is too overwhelmed to accommodate them.  Moreover, the city’s 911 system has been flooded with calls for medical emergencies.  For example, last Thursday the system received some 7,000 calls, a number not seen since “9/11.”   The normal number is 4,000.  Also, one paramedic reported he was dispatched to two homes in the Washington Heights area where both entire families were sick.  He told reporters he was “terrified,” not only for himself but also for what he “already [had] possibly brought home [to his family].”  This was likely not an isolated case.
  8.  Detroit, MI may be the next big city to become a “hot spot.”  It’s not just the number of reported cases; it’s also the characteristics of the population.  Like most big cities, people live in very close proximity; thirty percent live in poverty and have received subpar healthcare; many have pre-existing health issues; and the hospitals are already overburdened.  Furthermore, there have been 35 fatalities in the past two weeks, and over 500 police officers are in quarantine, including the chief.
  9.  Critical medical supplies remain in short supply.  Various states and countries are competing with each other to obtain what they need now and may need prospectively.  FEMA is coordinating with various companies in the private sector to provide these items.  It’s an ongoing uphill battle to keep up with the virus.  This situation has led to accusations of price gouging, which US AG Barr is investigating, and hoarding.
  10.  China has been trying to redeem itself in the eyes of the world after its delay in reporting the outbreak and severity of the virus.  It has been shipping massive quantities of medical supplies to various countries.  Sounds good, but several reports have emerged charging that most of its supplies, including test kits and protective gear, are defective.   The governments of Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the Philippines are some of the complainants.  This is unconscionable.  Faulty equipment is much worse than no equipment as it provides the illusion of safety that doesn’t exist.
  11. In addition, as mentioned above, China has long been suspected of underreporting its case numbers.  “Caixin,” a respected and influential Chinese magazine, has reported the government has not been reporting asymptomatic cases, which has greatly reduced the number of cases.
  12. Most disturbingly, several Chinese citizens, among them a doctor, a journalist, and an activist, who had criticized the Chinese government’s handling of the virus have been imprisoned or have simply disappeared.  Unfortunately, in a totalitarian regime that does not bode well for them.
  13. Dubai was set to host Expo 2020 in October.  The purpose of this event was to promote tourism and business opportunities in the country.   This event has been seven years in the planning and so far has cost approximately $8 billion.  The organizing committee has postponed it until 2021.
  14.  Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has issued two executive orders. One requires all restaurants and bars to suspend servicing customers on premises – take-out and delivery service only.  This action is similar to that taken in many other states.  The other prohibits all “non-essential” elective medical procedures.  “We’re going guns blazing and doing all that we can to slow the spread of Covid-19,” stated DeSantis.
  15.  Louisiana Governor John Edwards disclosed that the state is becoming a “hot spot” with approximately 4,000 cases and nearly 200 deaths.  Moreover, the state could exhaust its supply of ventilators by April 4.
  16.  Texas has imposed a 14-day quarantine on all people coming into the state.
  17.  Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC have also issued stay-at-home guidelines.  It is likely that several other jurisdictions will follow suit.
  18. Today, Monday, a US Navy ship, USNS Comfort, docked in NY harbor several weeks ahead of schedule.  It is a massive 900 foot vessel with a capacity of 1,000 beds including 80 in intensive care.  Its mission is to treat non-coronavirus patients, so that the city’s overburdened hospitals and healthcare workers can focus on coronavirus patients.  A sister ship , the USS Mercy, has been providing the same services in LA.
  19. The UN warned that the virus could be particularly lethal in the various underdeveloped countries of Africa and Asia.  These countries lack the healthcare infrastructure to combat the virus.
  20. From the outset Israel has been very proactive, imposing severe restrictions on its populace to combat  the virus.  Nevertheless, it has been reported that over 4,000 people have tested positive for the virus, including a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s staff.  As a result, Netanyahu has been placed in quarantine.
  21. It has been widely reported that various private sector companies have been racing to develop a vaccine against the virus.  Johnson & Johnson has announced it has developed a vaccine that should be ready for human clinical trials by September.  If successful the vaccine could be available for emergency use early in 2021.
  22.  I continue to be amazed at the substantial contributions of the private sector.  It is amazing what American ingenuity and free enterprise can accomplish.   The list of companies is extensive, such as 3M, Proctor and Gamble, Wall Mart, Ford, GM, the aforementioned J & J and Abbott Labs,  and many others.  Some have retooled their factories to produce much-needed medical supplies.  Others are working non-stop on a vaccine and/or therapeutic treatments, some of which have shown promise.  When the private sector is fully engaged like this, it is really something to see.  Kudos to them all and to President Trump for streamlining government regulations and procedures where necessary to assist them.
  23.  Those of you who follow the trials and tribulations of the British Royals will be happy to know that Prince Charles has completed his quarantine period and is no longer under isolation in a Scottish castle.  Ho hum.

CONCLUSION

The public is constantly being bombarded with sharply varying, unsubstantiated, even contradictory, predictions from various sources.  These mixed signals are not only confusing; they are counterproductive to combatting the virus.  For example, many governors have been issuing gloomy reports on their respective states’ situation.   Perhaps, exaggerations?  Also, a few days ago, President Trump, in an effort to be optimistic, stated that the country might be able to return to normalcy, more or less, by Easter, which is April 12.  He added that some areas of the country had had light instances of the virus, and the people there might be able to return to work soon.  Good news, right?  Not exactly.  However, later, after consulting with his panel of experts he amended that prediction.  Instead, he extended the current guidelines for another month.  As of today, he said he expects the cases to peak in the next two weeks.

I don’t wish to unduly criticize the president’s handling of the situation.  On the whole, I heartily approve of his handling of it.  According to the latest Gallup Poll most Americans agree.  Furthermore, I understand that the situation is very fluid, and he is only trying to rally our spirits.  However, I believe he should realize that people are hanging on his every  word.  He should choose his words more carefully to avoid sending out mixed signals.

At the same time, Dr. Fauci was predicting that the death toll would rise.  He threw out the number 100,000 just in the US.  The NY Times published an estimate of 200,000.  Since we’re now at less than 3,000, that would be a very substantial increase.  Predictions like that are downright scary.  That was the reason Mr. Trump amended his original assessment of the situation.  But, undoubtedly, the conflicting predictions caused some confusion, which is my point.

What is worse, predictions that are unrealistically optimistic or unrealistically pessimistic?  You decide.

It has been reported that members of Congress are already discussing an additional aid package.  It’s wise to plan ahead, but, perhaps, in this case a bit premature.  The current package hasn’t even been distributed yet.  Let’s give it a few weeks and re-assess at that time.

The main point of all this is, we don’t really know what will happen.  It looks like no one, including the experts, really does.

What you can do to protect yourself is to remember, medical experts agree that the best way to prevent contracting the virus is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly and don’t touch your face.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE VI. AID PACKAGE AND NYC

As most of you know, Congress has finally passed the long-anticipated and much needed coronavirus stimulus package, and President Trump has signed it into law.   At $2.2 trillion it is the largest and most comprehensive emergency aid package in US history.   It is intended to provide assistance to every person and entity affected by the virus through no fault of their own – individuals, small businesses and entire industries.

The major provisions include:

  1.  Individuals will receive one-time cash payments.  Eligibility and amounts will depend on one’s income.  A typical family of four will receive $3,400 by direct deposit or by check.   Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the payments should be distributed within three weeks.
  2.  Additional assistance for those receiving unemployment assistance
  3.  Payments for those receiving social security.
  4.  Assistance for hospitals and other healthcare providers.
  5.  Assistance for veterans.
  6. Assistance for childcare if the facility was closed due to the virus.
  7. Waivers for student loan payments for loans held by the federal government.
  8. Financial assistance for small businesses
  9. Aid for distressed companies/industries, such as restaurants, cruise lines and airlines.  This is not a “bail-out” as some have characterized it, but loans and incentives.

These last two are necessary for America to maintain its strong economy and to ensure that workers have jobs to return to once the crisis has been resolved.

Is it perfect?  No.  Will there be unintended negative consequences?  Probably.  But, it is necessary, and it is important to remember that, due to the exigent circumstances, the bill was put together quickly and, perhaps, a bit haphazardly.

Furthermore, in order to pass it had to satisfy a wide range of special interest groups who were in a position to and, in fact, did, delay its passage.  These groups were not interested in assisting those in need.  Rather, they thought they saw an opportunity to blackmail and intimidate the main body of the Congress to accept their pet projects.

For example, it looked as though the bill was going to pass last weekend, but at the last minute Speaker Pelosi, promoting the interests of far left elements of the Dem Party, tried to insert various amendments that had nothing to do with corona.  I discussed these in my last blog , and there is no need to repeat them here.  Some were rejected, and some were accepted, but the primary effect was to delay the bill’s passage for several days.

Then, right before the actual vote GOP Rep Thomas Massie tried to force a rollcall vote, which would have led to further delay and would have required numerous members who were sick with corona or just sheltering in place at home to return to DC.  He was widely criticized on both sides of the aisle for that tactic.  (When was the last time President Trump and Senator John Kerry  agreed on anything?)   As House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pointed out, “We have members on both sides of the aisle who have the virus [and] are quarantined.”   Massie was thwarted, but, once again, it forced an unnecessary and dangerous delay.

So, the bill includes some provisions that have nothing to do with corona.   Many of us might not like them, but we have to accept them for the greater good.

As most of us know from following the news NYC has become the primary “hot spot” in the US for the virus.  As I write this it has identified in excess of 26,000 cases with nearly 400 fatalities.  NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo told the NY Times that the number of cases is “doubling every three days.”

Moreover, according to NYC’s own statistics the city is suffering a fatality every 17 minutes.  Think about that for a minute.  In the four hours it has taken me to write this blog some 14 people have died!

Furthermore, residents who can have been fleeing the city.  Dr. Deborah Birx  told the NY Times that this is part of the reason for the high incidences of the virus in neighboring Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties.  The Presidential Task Force has cautioned that those leaving the city should be “self-quarantining” for 14 days, but I suspect many have not.  Either they were not aware they had the virus, or they were careless.  NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio has told reporters that the city could “run out of critical resources as early as April 5.”  Sentiment is growing for a “full lockdown.”  Public advocate Jumaane Williams opined “we need a mandated lockdown, and we needed it yesterday.”  Reports are that authorities are considering it.  By the time you read this it may have been declared.

How did this happen?  What is different about NYC that has caused this situation, which seems to be getting worse by the day.  It has almost reached the tipping point.  Everyone has their theories.  Below please find mine.  Some are fairly obvious; others may appear controversial.

  1. NYC is a very densely populated city, especially Manhattan.  People are living in very close proximity to each other.
  2. The primary modes of travel within the city are bus and subway.  I cannot think of easier ways to spread contagion unwittingly.  If you have ever ridden the subway you know what I mean.
  3. NYC has many large gathering places where people congregate, for example, movie theatres, Broadway shows, sporting arenas, hotels, parks, just everyday moving about.  People are always in crowds.
  4. NYC is primarily an international city.  There are always thousands of transients visiting it from all over the country and the world.
  5. All that said, based on various news reports as well as empirical evidence, it is becoming increasingly obvious that NYC was ill-prepared to deal with the outbreak.  I believe this responsibility falls primary on Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bill De Blasio. and other officials.  Even commentator, Geraldo Rivera, normally a liberal, characterized De Blasio as “AWOL.”  There have been many examples of poor leadership, but I will cite just a few.  I have provided more details in previous blogs on the virus.

a.  On February 2 NYC Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot was trying to hype the                    upcoming Chinese New Year parade and celebration in NYC’s Chinatown.  She                      downplayed the outbreak.  She put out a statement calling for people to “enjoy                    the parade…ride the subways.”

b.  Around the same time the NY Times, which many people consider the ultimate                   news source, labeled President Trump’s newly installed travel ban  as “racist                       attacks on Asians.”

c.  The NY Post has reported that Cuomo has wasted roughly $200 million that had                   been made available for stockpiling medical supplies on boondoggles such as a                   solar panel factory, a lightbulb factory and a computer chip factory all of which                   have either been taken over or closed.

CONCLUSION

With respect to the aid package as I said it may have its flaws, but the alternative would have been a deep recession or even a depression.  Hopefully, it will achieve the desired result.  Some commentators have been warning that another package may be necessary.  We’ll see.

With respect to NYC I believe the feds have been doing all they can to provide assistance.  Medical equipment has been provided, in some cases, exceeding current demand.  Funding has been provided for five temporary hospitals throughout the city, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester.  A huge hospital ship is en route.

It was reported that the US now has the highest number of coronavirus cases, even more than China.  Of course, that is not good news, but I maintain that it is due to China’s severe underreporting.  Be that as it may, many people have found it necessary to politicize that disclosure.   For example, I and many others found Hillary Clinton’s inane, gleeful, and despicable comments regarding this news deeply disturbing.  While Americans are getting sick and dying her comment was “well, he did promise America first.”  I guess, we should not be surprised in view of her comments regarding the four Americans who died at Benghazi.  (“What difference at this point does it matter?  They’re dead!”)  In my view, she is an irrelevant has-been fighting for relevancy.

Unfortunately, some facilities are overwhelmed.  Kudos to the healthcare workers who are putting their own health and that of their families in danger by working long hours in dangerous conditions.  During the 1918 pandemic many healthcare workers got sick, which exacerbated the situation significantly.  Let us hope and pray this doesn’t happen now.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE V

One of the few silver linings relative to the coronavirus pandemic is that we are reminded of what a great country the US is.  We may have our differences most of the time, but as most of you know, time after time, the US has demonstrated its formidable power when it unites to combat a common enemy.  We have defeated fascism, communism, terrorism and tyrannical governments.  We have survived previous epidemics and the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918.  We have defeated diseases such as smallpox and polio.  I am confident that we will defeat the coronavirus as well.

In watching the daily briefings on tv one sees that the full weight of the US has been mobilized.  One can debate about the degree of readiness, whether we, as a nation, should have been better prepared, and who is to blame.  However, I maintain that that is a debate for another day, after the virus has been neutralized.  A wise man, or country, learns from his mistakes so as not to repeat them, and hopefully, we will.

At the present time, the private sector has risen to the challenge in a manner that is uniquely American.  The hallmarks of the private sector are free enterprise and competition, and we are seeing them both on full display now.  The private sector is teaming with the federal, state and local governments and the scientific and medical communities to defeat the virus, and I am confident that we will succeed.  Why?  Simply, because we always have. As I have said many times, I am a “glass half full” guy.

Below please find the significant developments of the last few days, which will illustrate my point.  As always, the following is derived from a combination of reports from various media outlets such as the Washington Post, NY Times, Vox News, CNN and Fox, among many others:

  1.  As I write this, the total cases worldwide has risen to roughly 435,000 with some 19,600 fatalities.  By the time you read this, it is likely that the numbers will be close to 500,000 and 20,000, respectively, as the trend has been sharply up.  The virus has spread to 195 countries.  (I didn’t even know that there were 195 countries in the world.)
  2. The numbers for the US are about 55,000 and 800, respectively.
  3. The current hot spots are Italy, France, Spain, Iran and the US.  There are many theories as to why those countries, but no one really knows for sure.  In my opinion, two major factors are the relative mobility of the respective populaces (except for Iran) and better identification and reporting of infected people.
  4.  Within the US the hottest spot, by far, is NY State.  Presently, it has reported approximately 1/2 of the cases and 1/3 of the deaths in the entire country.  Within NYS, the preponderance of cases and deaths has been in the NYC metro area, including Long Island and Westchester.  Alarmingly, lately, the number of cases in NYC have been doubling every three days.  According to Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, this has been exacerbated by NYC residents fleeing the city for those areas.  Many of them are not exhibiting symptoms, however, they may be in the very early stages of the disease or they may just be asymptomatic but capable of infecting others. Accordingly, the authorities have urged anyone travelling from NYC to self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.
  5. Even worse, the NY Times has reported that some 60% of new cases nationwide are in the NYC metro area.
  6.  As bad as the US numbers may be, most independent observers agree that they would have been considerably worse if President Trump had not taken prompt, decisive action to restrict travel into the US and encourage symptomatic people to self-quarantine for 14 days.   In particular, Vice President Mike Pence and medical experts like Drs. Fauci and Birx maintain that those actions bought us time to gear up.
  7.  When President Trump took these actions at the end of January the mainstream media vilified him.  A sampling of headlines from early February:  Washington Post – “Get a grippe, America”  The [seasonal] flu is a much bigger threat.”  The NY Times  characterized the move as “racist attacks against Asians.”  Vox News – “Is this going to turn into a deadly pandemic?  No.”
  8.  On February 9 commentator Mark Levine encouraged people to feel free to celebrate the Chinese New Year in NYC’s Chinatown.  He admonished, “If you stay away you are missing out.”  NYC Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot chimed in, “enjoy the parade; ignore ‘misinformation’ ” [about the threat of the coronavirus].    How ignorant do those headlines and comments seem now?
  9.  What was Congress focused on during this time?  A “fools errand” trying to impeach and remove Donald Trump from office.  So, if anyone was “asleep at the wheel” it was Congress and the mainstream media.
  10.  Testing is, in the words of Dr. Birx, “ramping up.”  We are now up to some 70,000 per day, much of it through drive-through facilities.  Dr. Birx and others have told us the amount will increase prospectively.  Furthermore, self testing kits will soon be available.  The timeframe between testing and results will be decreasing from days to hours.  Ninety percent of the tests have been negative.
  11. The fatality rate has been dropping to below 1%.
  12. As I said, the private sector is “all in.”  For example, many large companies are providing large quantities of medical supplies such as surgical masks, ventilators and respirators and retooling their plants to produce even more.  Additionally, many companies have been paying or donating money to their workers.  Some individuals have made it a point to patronize their favorite restaurant and tip service workers a little extra.
  13. VP Pence has characterized the private sector’s involvement as “deeply inspiring [and] “extraordinary.”
  14. Drs. Fauci and Birx have been telling us that various scientists and pharmaceutical groups have been working feverishly to develop a vaccine, however, they caution none will be ready for general use for at least one year.  In the meantime, there may be some therapeutic treatments available.  There has been much talk about the efficacy of the anti-malarial medications chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.  These drugs have been in use for well over 50 years for treating malaria and have been very effective.  Many people who have taken these drugs for treating the virus have been cured.  For example, there have been reports of a Florida man who was near death, took the drug, and recovered.  But, medical professionals are cautioning people not to take these without a doctor’s prescription.  They have not undergone clinical  trials for treating the virus, and there are many potential side effects.
  15.  There have been reports of hoarding and price gouging, particularly with respect to medical supplies.  Of course, this is unconscionable.  President Trump has directed AG William Barr to investigate, and he is.
  16. Congress has been debating the terms of an aide package of up to $6 trillion.  As I have said in previous blogs, this is desperately needed to assist corporations, small businesses and individual workers through this crisis.  They are suffering through no fault of their own.  In order to combat this virus the government has decreed that nonessential businesses be closed and their employees stay home.  The bill contains a variety of cash payments, loans and other benefits specifically aimed at those affected by the pandemic.  It is not designed to be a general handout.  Unfortunately, typically Congress moves at a snail’s pace, so, as I write this, the package has not been passed.  (Note, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has disclosed they have an agreement and hopefully they will approve it today.)  Reports indicate that the House and Senate were very close to a deal over this past weekend, but then Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the far left wing of the House, seeking to take advantage of the exigent situation, attempted to add some highly partisan last minute amendments.  These were pure “pork barrel” and part of the ill-fated Green New Deal and far left “wish list.”  Shame on them!  They had nothing to do with combatting the virus.  To their credit, the other members of Congress refused to be bullied and blackmailed, so the bill has stalled.  This type of maneuvering may be typical in normal times, but this is not the time for it.  Time is of the essence.  People are suffering severe economic hardship.  We are on the verge of a severe recession or even a depression.

CONCLUSION

As I have written in previous blogs in addition to the severe medical impact of the virus there was a very real possibility that the economic impact could be worse and more long-lasting.  Shutting down the economy, though necessary in the short run, is a really bad idea in the long run.  The longer it goes on, the harder it will be to reboot once the virus has been neutralized.  The collateral damage and unintended consequences could last for many, many years.

President Trump realizes this as do many others.  He senses Americans are a nation of “doers.”  They want to get back to work.  It’s imperative that we have an economy to go back to once we have conquered this virus.

Throughout this ordeal he has tried to strike a balance between optimism and reality.  He has been criticized by his detractors, but, for the most part, his decisions have been right.  According to the latest Gallup Poll 60% of Americans approve of the way he has handled this crisis.

He has set a goal to be back on line by Easter, which is April 12.  It may or may not happen, and he assured us he would not force it if we were not ready, but it is good to set goals.  Perhaps, it will be a gradual return to normalcy as sections of the country become ready.

Some of you may remember President JFK in the early sixties setting a goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  Many people mocked him for that bold prediction, and it seemed unattainable, but we did it.  Yes, it is good to have a goal to shoot for.  It tends to focus the effort.  It did so for the moon landing.  Let’s hope it does so in this  case as well.

KENNY ROGERS

For the past several weeks we have been focused on the coronavirus, and for good reason.   The deadly pandemic has killed thousands and infected hundreds of thousands worldwide.   Moreover, it has disrupted the world economy to the point that we are facing the very real potential of a deep recession or even a depression.

However, lost in the shuffle was the passing of one of the most versatile and prolific entertainers of the last 60 years.  He achieved great success as a singer, songwriter, actor, record producer, and entrepreneur.  Although his primary popularity was as a country music singer he cut some 120 “hit” singles across many other genres, including jazz, pop, folk and rock.  He sold in excess of 100 million records, making him one of the best-selling artists ever.

Kenneth Ray Rogers was born on August 21, 1938 in Houston, Texas.  He was the fourth of eight children. He came from very humble beginnings.   His father was a carpenter; his mother was a nurse’s assistant.

He demonstrated his musical potential at an early age when he won a talent show at the Texan Theatre in 1949.  As a youth he worked at a succession of menial odd jobs, such as sweeping floors and as a busboy.

He began his recording career in the late 1950s with a group called the “Scholars,” which few of us remember.  The group’s big hit was “The Poor Little Doggie.”

After bouncing around for several years in 1966 he joined a group called “The New Christy Minstrels,” with which some of you might be familiar, for which he played double bass and bass guitar in addition to singing.  In 1967 he and a few members left to found “First Edition.”  Among that group’s hits you may recall “Just Dropped in  (To See What Condition My Condition Was in”), which peaked at #5 on “Billboard” and “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.”  When the band disbanded in 1976 Rogers embarked on a long and very successful solo career.

In 1978 he released what I and many others believe was his signature hit, “The Gambler.”  Not only did it win him a Grammy Award, but it also became the basis for a series of made-for-tv movies for which he would win an Emmy nomination.  During his long career he collaborated with many other famous entertainers, such as Barry Gibb of the “Bee Gees” and Dolly Parton, which yielded one of his biggest hits, “Islands in the  Stream.”  He and Parton enjoyed a decades-long friendship and collaborated on various projects.  He won another Grammy in 1988 for “Make No Mistake, She’s Mine” in collaboration with Ronnie Milsap.

Kenny was featured in various movies such “Six Pack” in 1982, in which he played a race-car driver, and in television series, such as “The Gambler,” “Coward of the County”” and the MacShayne Series.  “Six Pack” was modestly successful at the box office ($20 million in the US).   In addition, he was host and narrator for the historical series, “The Real West,” which ran on A & E.

He co-founded a chain of restaurants, “Kenny Rogers Roasters,” which are still popular in Asia.  Some of you may recall that it was featured on an episode of the popular tv show “Seinfeld.”  His partner in the venture was John Y. Brown, former Governor of Kentucky and chief executive officer of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

CONCLUSION

Kenny was not as successful in his personal life.  He was married five times and had five children. At one point, he had a pet goat, named Smitty whom he considered his “center.”  He maintained that Smitty provided a “calming influence” in his life in contrast to his hectic and stressful touring schedule.

Kenny commenced his farewell tour in 2015.  In October 2017 he was honored by a host of contemporary star entertainers at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, including Lionel Ritchie, Dolly Parton and Wynonna and Naomi Judd, among many others, who appeared with him in what was billed as a “Salute to Kenny Rogers All in for the Gambler Farewell Concert Celebration.”  In 2018 he had to cancel the remaining dates of his farewell tour due to ill health.

Eventually, because of ill health, Kenny was living under hospice care in his home in Sandy Springs, GA.  He passed away there on March 20.

Rest in peace, Kenny.  You entertained us for 60 years and you will be sorely missed.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE IV

The coronavirus pandemic keeps getting worse with bad news far outweighing good news.  It appears that we have now entered the “bubble phase” that experts have been predicting.  Hopefully, it won’t last too long.  Conditions in China and South Korea seem to be improving.

The following is a summary of current developments as reported by various news agencies, including, among others, the NY Times, The LA times, USA Today and CNN.

  1. In my last blog I mentioned the possibility of a worldwide depression if the economic situation continued along its present path.  According to a news article published today by CNN unfortunately, as illustrated by the below developments, that possibility is becoming increasingly more real every day.
  2.  The number of cases and fatalities differ depending on the source, but according to Johns Hopkins University as of today total worldwide cases exceed 278,000 and  fatalities exceed 11,500.  By the time you read this the numbers could easily be 300,000 and 12,000, respectively.
  3.  Most people agree the US economy needs a boost to support workers and businesses that have been adversely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.  The House has passed such a measure, but the Senate is still negotiating its package.   The amount and specifics of it seem to change every day.  The latest estimate, according to the Administration’s top economic advisor, Larry  Kudlow, will likely amount to around $2 trillion, or roughly 10% of GDP.  Why is the Senate taking so long to hammer out a document that everyone agrees is needed asap?  Why is that austere body seemingly incapable of acting exigently and decisively?  Good question.  That’s just the way it operates.  Too many rules and procedures, I suppose, which is small comfort to those in need.
  4.  NYC appears to have become the epicenter of the crisis in the US, with an estimated 5,700 cases and 43 deaths.  Currently, it has one-third of all US cases.  I’m not sure how it earned that dubious honor, but its situation is definitely critical.
  5. Today, NYS Governor Cuomo disclosed the state has at least 10,300 confirmed cases.  Cuomo told reporters that part of that high amount is due to increased testing   Cuomo said over 45,000 individuals have been tested, and “the more test(s) you take, the more positives you find.”
  6.  The city and the state are in urgent need of everything from hospital beds to medical supplies, such as masks, gloves, ventilators and respirators.  As a stop-gap NYS has agreed to send 1 million masks to NYC.  As an example of the severity of the shortage one Brooklyn hospital has begun reusing masks.  They say they are cleaning them as best they can, but still …  Ugh!
  7. In order to alleviate the severe shortage of hospital space Cuomo announced he is considering converting areas such as the Javits Center, the Westchester County Center and SUNY Stony Brook to treatment centers.
  8. President Trump has declared NY a disaster area.  Senator Chuck Schumer has declared ” we’re at a vital point in the battle against the disease, and we need to do everything in our power to stop it, right here, right now.”
  9. NY is not alone.  Various other states have instituted similarly severe measures and issued similarly ominous predictions.   Almost all states have closed their schools, bars, restaurants, and other venues where people congregate.  Gatherings have been restricted considerably.  Governors have declared that non-essential workers should stay home.  “Social distancing” has become the new “buzzword.”
  10. Some states, like Minnesota, have declared workers, such as grocery store clerks, cleaning staff, and food preparation personnel, as “emergency” workers, which allows them to continue going to work and entitles them to free child care and certain other benefits.
  11.  The US, Canada and Mexico, acting in concert, have closed their common borders to “nonessential” travelers.
  12. The financial market indexes have been dropping precipitously  This past week was the worst since the financial crisis of 2008.  Furthermore, there has been no indication that a bottom has been reached.  In a related matter, four members of Congress who had advance information of the coronavirus have been accused of selling substantial blocks of stock just prior to the market declines.  If true, this would be illegal and an unconscionable violation of public trust.  Hopefully, the SEC will conduct a formal investigation and if one or more of them is guilty assess appropriate penalties.  At the very least, the optics are very bad.
  13. With everything that’s going on, amazingly, the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games have not been cancelled or postponed.  The organizers appear to be in denial.  There is no way they can go on as scheduled.  Olympic officials in many countries have been calling for the IOC to cancel or postpone them.  How are all the countries in lockdown supposed to hold Olympic trials to determine their teams?  How are the athletes supposed to train, assuming they are even healthy enough to do so?  Why would any of them want to travel to Japan at this time anyway?
  14.  Australia, which has been practicing “social distancing,” was forced to close the famous Bondi Beach on Saturday after huge crowds of people gathered on the beach in defiance of the order.
  15. England closed all restaurants, pubs and bars.  Rishi Sunak, Finance Minister, characterized the order as an “unprecedented measure for unprecedented times.”  The government pledged to soften the impact on workers by paying them up to 80% of their wages.  Furthermore, one London hospital declared it was running out of “critical care capacity” and was seeking to transfer some patients to other hospitals, which, of course, would put similar pressures on them.
  16. Many stores in the UK are running out of supplies.  Several shelves in supermarkets have been empty.   The government has issued an appeal to shoppers to refrain from hoarding.  George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, declared that “buying more than you need means that others may be left without…There is more than enough to go around.”
  17.  Egypt has closed all mosques for two weeks.
  18. Up to now, South America has largely escaped the pandemic.  But, in a sign that that is about to change Colombia, Argentina, Costa Rica and other South American countries have instituted closures, lockdowns and restrictions on travel.
  19.  Israel had been doing very well with only 883 cases and no fatalities out of a population of nine million.  However, Friday it reported its initial death.  I believe the circumstances portend an ominous situation.  The victim was an 88 year-old living in a nursing home.  Apparently, he had been infected by a social worker who had visited the home.  Reportedly, several other residents have also been infected, so we can expect more fatalities.
  20. New guidelines from the Red Cross suggest that its relief shelters may have been unwittingly spreading the virus among some residents.  So, it is now requiring (1) social distancing and (2) everyone to have their temperature taken.
  21. There is still the ongoing problem with cruise ships.  Many of them are still stuck at sea with sick passengers and nowhere to dock.  Those that have found a port, such as the Costa Luminosa and the Ruby Princess, which have docked in Savona, Italy, and Sydney, Australia, respectively, have infected passengers and have endangered  the local populace.
  22. Tragically, seven members of one family in NJ were stricken with the virus, and four of them have died.
  23.  There have been reports emanating from China, Italy and South Korea that men are more likely to die from the virus than women by a ratio of 2:1.   The LA Times reported that men have accounted for 58% of the cases worldwide and 72% of the fatalities.  Why? No one knows for sure, but one theory is that more men smoke than women and, perhaps, the smoking has compromised their lungs.  Another theory is that estrogen is somehow acting to mitigate the effects of the virus.

CONCLUSION

Finally, some good news.  We are beginning to see some instances of private industry “stepping up.”  For example:

  1.  Wall Mart has announced it will pay cash bonuses to its US workers.
  2.  Darden Restaurants has declared it will pay two weeks wages to any of its 190,000 employees whose hours have been cut due to the pandemic.

Through all the bad news regarding this virus it is not easy to remain upbeat, but I urge you all to try to do so.  This surge in cases and fatalities was predicted.  We have beaten other pandemics in the past, and I believe that by pulling together we will beat this one too.

In the meantime, MAINTAIN YOUR “SOCIAL DISTANCE,” and WASH YOUR HANDS THOROUGHLY.