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Unusual sequelae of COVID-19: Texas Roadhouse CEO Kent Taylor kills himself after persistent tinnitus from COVID. Is suicide a complication of this virus?

2021-03-23

A 65 year old man came down with COVID-19 a few months ago. He recovered, mostly, but suffered from debilitating tinnitus and other post-COVID symptoms afterwards. He killed himself a few days ago. This blog post is based on a report in the Washington Post.

This man was very successful, rich even. He worked hard all his life as a restaurant entrepeneur, becoming known as the CEO of a chain, the Texas Roadhouse. When his company went public in 2004, he got a $60 million payout. He was said to have sacrificed part of his fortune to support the employees of his restaurants when they were hit by the pandemic, showing his humanity and empathy.

His death highlights some of the more painful aspects of the last year. Reports of mental illness or emotional distress have dramatically increased since the pandemic encouraged shutdowns all over the world. Suicides have increased both among those affected only by isolation and among those with persistent COVID symptoms.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus (the sensation of hearing a noise when there is no sound, derived from the Latin word which means “tinkling” or “ringing”) is a common symptom that can be trivial or completely debilitating. It is most often a consequence of hearing loss due to exposure to loud noises, like gunfire or music, but can also be caused by ear canal blockage, middle ear infections, medications, or, rarely, brain disorders.

The sensation of tinnitus is usually described as a buzzing noise, roaring, ringing, clicking, or humming. The sound of tinnitus may be constant or intermittent. It is most obvious (and distressing) in quiet places and at night. There are no really good treatments for tinnitus, but the most effective remedy in mild or moderate cases is to have a blocking noise going– like music, or specially adapted hearing aids that produce a buzzing sound.

The symptoms of tinnitus may be completely destructive to a person’s feeling of well-being or even sanity. There are anecdotes of people committing suicide because they cannot tolerate the symptoms. Another Washington Post article on tinnitus and COVID states that 50 million Americans have experiences with tinnitus, and some 2 million have “extreme and debilitating cases” that could cause severe distress.

Does COVID cause tinnitus or predispose to suicide?

The virus can cause damage to the audio-vestibular system, which helps us with standing upright and maintaining our balance as well as hearing. This systematic review discusses what is known about COVID and the audio-vestibular system.

This being said, one wonders whether the single symptom of tinnitus alone could cause a person to kill themselves unless the sensation is overwhelming. Surely there are contributing symptoms that lead to the decision to end your life? Despair, self-hatred, failure, unrelenting pain, loss of loved ones?

A famous case of suicide occurred many months ago, at the beginning of the pandemic: a highly accomplished, young emergency room physician who appeared to recover quickly from the virus returned to work but was unable to tolerate it or even fulfill the functions of her job. She killed herself within a few weeks after coming down with COVID. She was said to have no prior history of depression (although no-one knows for sure about this subtle and often hidden symptom.)

COVID and psychosis

What if COVID itself is the cause of this psychotic breakdown?

I raise this possibility because it has been raised by others, including in the comments section to the article in the Washington Post. Many people have suffered neurological and psychological problems related to COVID, so it is not outside the realm of possibility that suicidal depression could be caused by the virus as well.

Even a commenter to the above-mentioned article mentioned that they had remarkably strange dreams for months after a severe bout of COVID. They were hospitalized with pneumonia but recovered, apparently completely. The only residual was a new onset of frighteningly strange, memorable dreams. It may be that this person remembered their dreams for the first time– after all, dreams are strange, even scary, routinely, but you normally don’t remember them at all or only in scraps.

Other people have had psychotic episodes labelled as schizophrenia with no remission (yet)– see, again, the comment section of the above-mentioned article.

The possibility that infection with this virus leads to a risk of depression and suicidal impulses deserves to be carefully researched. If a causative relation can be found, it may be advisable to closely observe recovered patients for subtle signs of depression. Close observation is essential because symptoms may be covered up or unrecognized by the patient.

Remember, if you yourself or a close one (or even someone you just care about) feels suicidal, help is always available. If worse comes to worst, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

(photo by Jakub Orisek courtesy of pixabay.com)

Comment of the Day: Total US tax receipts are 16% of GDP– down from 20% in 2001. The US is one of the least taxed countries in the developed world.

2021-03-11

This comment was attached to an article in the New York TImes. The article points out that some $570 billion dollars in taxes are not collected each year in the United States, in part because the IRS has been systematically starved of funds for enforcement. The agency has been “increasingly unable to detect or address blatant tax cheating by high-income filers and the largest businesses. In February, the IRS commissioner, Charles P. Rettig, told Congress that about $570 billion in taxes owed in 2018 were not paid. That tax gap is projected to total about $7.5 trillion over this decade.”

“From 2010 to 2019, lawmakers cut the IRS enforcement budget by more than 20 percent. But Mr. Biden and the Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, have pledged to rebalance tax enforcement, and this spring presents a chance to deliver. Any responsible recovery package would include a multiyear stream [of revenue] for rebuilding the IRS. Fully funding the agency would defeat tax cheats while raising revenue for critical investments. It would help the overwhelming majority of Americans who want to pay whatever they owe. It would help honest businesses better thrive and compete. And restaffing the IRS through restored funding would help fight corruption and strengthen the rule of law.”

“… the wealthiest are the prime beneficiaries of the status quo. Estimates suggest that the top 1 percent of filers account for [between 28 and 70 percent of the uncollected taxes]… The wealthiest households and the largest businesses often use a complex maze of financial arrangements and offshore entities that make it incredibly hard and time-consuming for the IRS to untangle what taxes are owed but not paid.”

We should note here that most wage-earners pay their full assessed share of taxes by virtue of money with-held from their paychecks automatically by their employers, whereas those with independent sources of income are free to keep all of their receipts if they wish, especially if they fail to report their income or use a “dodge” to avoid paying– an incentive to cheat on their taxes.

The Comment, by “Mike” of Tucson:

(One important point, not mentioned in the article, is that we are not heavily taxed in this country.)

  1. Total US tax receipts (federal, state, local, excise, and social insurance) as a percent of GDP is one of the lowest in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development: 37 of the richest nations in the world) with only two nations lower, one being Mexico.
  2. Federal tax receipts as a percent of GDP have fallen from 20% in fiscal year 2001 — which was the last time we had a budget surplus — to 16% today.
  3. Corporate tax receipts are at historic lows at 1.1% of GDP, down almost half from 2001 and only 1/3 of the OECD average.

We are not a highly taxed country by any measure.

(personal note to explain lack of recent posts: I have been seriously ill– not with COVID– and am not fully recovered. New posts will appear on an as-able basis. Fortunately, I have been recently vaccinated against the dread virus.)

(photo by steve buissinne courtesy of pixabay.com)

“T. saw these people as… sympathetic to the idea that the election was stolen.”– Lindsey Graham. Steve Scalise implies election was really stolen.

2021-02-25

Just when you thought the election was over and Biden won fair and square, along comes Steve Scalise who refuses to admit that he didn’t steal the election. During an interview last week, Scalise refused to say: (via Huffpost)

“There were a few states that did not follow their state laws,” Scalise said. “That’s really the dispute that you’ve seen continue on.”

“At the end of the day, when you look at where we are in this country, either we’re going to address the problems that happened with the election that people are still ― millions of people ― are still concerned about,” he added. “The Constitution says state legislatures set the rules for elections. That didn’t happen in a few states.”

The problem with his argument is that this very question was put to the courts, and they disagreed. The courts all said that constitutional rules were followed. Pro-Republican lawyers filed over 60 lawsuits, and they all failed. So the judicial branch of government has decided that Biden didn’t “steal” the election– he won by getting 81 million votes to “the former guy” getting 74 million votes. No matter what Scalise thinks, he can’t go around saying that the Constitution wasn’t followed, because the Courts say it was.

It was T who told everyone the election was going to be “rigged”, and afterwards he insisted that it was “stolen”– the Big Lie. He started it, spread it, insisted on it, and refused to back down when the Courts decided otherwise.

The rioters who breached the Capitol on January 6 were shown live on television and the president was watching with sympathy for his allies who believed the election was stolen. He wasn’t thinking about stopping the riot until he was reminded by his staff.

Somewhere in that delusional journey. Somehow he has won the election, except he didn’t.

So he gets together a mob that he has been carefully preparing for at least the last year, keeping them in conspiracy rabbit-holes. He’s studied the chokepoints in the Constitutional procedure for endorsing elections and he plans to apply pressure to the Congress at their weakest point in the process: the normally formulaic opening and counting of the Electoral College ballots by the Senate.

Electoral counting ceremony is presided over by the Vice President. It has a reputation for being painful to perform when the party of the Vice President loses the election. Nonetheless, Vice Presidents have followed protocol to the letter every time. This time Vice President Pence fully intended to do the same, despite heavy pressure from the president.

Except that the president was giving a speech to a crowd of supporters who immediately marched a mile and a half to the Capitol. The speech was timed to finish before Vice President Pence was due to start counting.

A mob broke into the Capitol building shortly after the president’s speech and forced the Secret Service to rush the Vice President to a secure location. House and Senate members were also sent to secure locations in the basement.

There was a significant delay in calling up the National Guard to help the Capitol Police recover from the assault. The President didn’t order them up; the Vice President was the one who did that. They weren’t called up for over two hours after the breach.

As a result, the outnumbered forces had to push the mob out of the building instead of arresting anyone.

The former president has returned to his private club in Florida, a safe space where he can vent about all the “unfair” treatment he’s received.

Somehow he’s still fuming about his psychotic fraud allegations and all the traitors who have betrayed him. Meanwhile, Joe Biden is issuing real executive orders and getting ready to pass through Congress a $1.9 trillion cash infusion into the federal budget. The only way to justify this is that it is an emergency, and it is.

Meanwhile, the infection numbers are gradually going down, apparently because people are following isolation rules more carefully– although no-one knows for sure. Hospitalizations have dropped, and even the death rate is subsiding. That sounds like good news, but the economy won’t recover just because the pandemic is receding.

The Republican moderates who met with Joe Biden offered $618 billion. This is not enough. There is a chance that even $1.9 trillion will not be enough. Just hope that the vaccines work. (PS: I got my first shot, by Pfizer, last week.)

(photo courtesy of pixabay.com and Erika Wittlieb)

Human sperm counts have fallen over 50% in the last 50 years. Abnormal sperm cells are increasing. Toxic chemicals in the environment are to blame.

2021-02-25

A systematic analysis of research on sperm counts in humans that was published in 2017 showed that there had been a 59 percent reduction in total sperm counts over the period 1973-2011. The drop in counts was consistent and steady over the 38-year period that data had been collected and was analyzed. This information was reported in the Human Reproduction Update for November-December 2017 published by Oxford Academic Press. In the last ten years the total sperm count in humans has continued to fall unabated.

Little attention was given to this information as the research on sperm counts had been inconsistent and inconclusive for many years. This systematic analysis was the first to show clear, consistent reductions over time associated with increased abnormalities in sperm structure and motility. A book that was published this week describes the current state of research and its dismal implications that are finally clear and convincing.

There are many other signs of deleterious effects of toxic chemicals in our environment, including: the unusual appearance of intersex characteristics among many animal species, including unusually small penises in some species, and individuals with both male and female organs in other species.

A New York Times opinion piece by Nicholas Kristof on February 20 describes the new attention to this research:

Now [Shanna H.] Swan, an epidemiologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, has written a book, “Count Down,” that will be published on Tuesday and sounds a warning bell. Her subtitle is blunt: “How our modern world is threatening sperm counts, altering male and female reproductive development, and imperiling the future of the human race.”

Swan and other experts say the problem is a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors, which mimic the body’s hormones and thus fool our cells. This is a particular problem for fetuses as they sexually differentiate early in pregnancy. Endocrine disruptors can wreak reproductive havoc.

These endocrine disruptors are everywhere: plastics, shampoos, cosmetics, cushions, pesticides, canned foods and A.T.M. receipts. They often aren’t on labels and can be difficult to avoid.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/20/opinion/sunday/endocrine-disruptors-sperm.html

These chemicals are ubiquitous because they are extremely useful for many purposes, readily made from petroleum derivatives, and cheap. But they have not been tested for toxicity consistently. The companies that created and continue to produce these chemicals have prevented large-scale testing of synthetic organic compounds because they superficially appear to be safe and the testing is expensive.

The toxic nature of these chemicals has not been widely appreciated, but there have been recent changes. Research on known endocrine disrupters has revealed the widespread damage they are causing to every multicellular species on Earth.

The chemical companies are trying to prevent further research and regulation of endocrine disrupters because they are making good profits on producing them and don’t want to have this profit line disrupted. In a way, these companies are like the tobacco companies were in the 1960’s: they are powerful, popular, and they support politicians regardless of party. As a result, the US government has not properly evaluated or regulated them.

Now it is past time to study and control these chemicals. There are thousands of them currently produced, and some are potent disrupters of many physiological functions, not just reproduction. Screening of these chemicals and more intensive study of those that appear to be potent toxins is an urgent matter.

The way to regulate chemicals properly is to have a federal government agency sponsor and collate research on them. This must be followed by effective regulation to reduce human and animal exposure to chemicals. especially the more potent ones.

If we do not start the work of research on synthetic organic chemicals now, the effects in 50 or 100 years will be extreme and unknowable. We cannot allow poisons that disrupt normal cellular functions to be dumped into the environment without proper regulation and control.

The problem of inadequate regulation is pervasive in this country, and it is primarily due to the ability of large companies with big profits to control politics. The Supreme Court decisions that allow big money to influence politics has perverted the purpose of government. Contributions by companies and rich individuals to political parties and politicians have made them beholden to private interests instead of the public interest.

The solution for this problem is better separation of big money from politics. Corporations must not be allowed to contribute to political people or causes. Contributions by individuals must be publicly known and limited to reasonable amounts of money. The current contribution limits are somewhat reasonable. But they are easily circumvented by the use of political action committees (PAC’s) and other gimmicks that allow companies to contribute and allow individuals to anonymously donate vast quantities of money to their favorite causes and people.

The classic example is the tobacco companies’ campaign of lies, subversion, and intimidation that suppressed publicity about the malign effects of tobacco products and prevented effective regulations. This playbook has been followed by every other large company with a questionable product. Fossil fuel companies have used the same techniques, ever since they discovered in the late 1960s through internal research that continuing to burn fuels for energy and transportation would lead to disastrous climate change within a hundred years.

Drug companies that made opioids used the same techniques and brought on a pandemic of overuse of addictive prescription pain killers followed by conversion to heroin use and eventual suicide or drug overdose after vanishing personal productivity and intimate tragedy.

Ubiquitous contamination of the environment by synthetic organic chemicals that produce endocrine disruption, falling sperm counts, infertility, and abnormal sex organs is a result of willful ignorance by companies that produce these chemicals. The companies were aided and abetted in their failure to adequately research the side effects of these chemicals due to lax regulation of chemical production by government agencies. Inadequate regulation was allowed by the malign influence of company money on political systems, particularly in the United States.

Companies that make large profits by production of toxic chemicals have used some of their profits to influence government. By controlling politician responses to publicity about toxic effects of chemicals, they have been able to avoid effective regulation and control of their behavior. The end result has been the conservative dream: privatize profits and socialize costs. “Externalities” have been allowed to wreak havoc on the people while “internalities” have been used to raise stock prices.

(image of sperm and egg cell by Thomas Breyer via pixabay.com)

Jainism– an early parallel to Buddhism and Hinduism. Free Dictionary on Mahavira. If you want more posts like this, please comment.

2021-02-21

Below is a direct copy of the Free Dictionary’s piece on “Mahavira”, the individual person who may have been the spiritual author of Jainism. He was said to have lived contemporaneously (or nearly so) with the Buddha. There are other similarities: he stepped down voluntarily from a high position at a young age and became an ascetic. He spent years practicing “intense meditation and severe austerities” after which he achieved enlightenment and began preaching.

There are differences, too: the four critical points upon which Mahavira insisted are: nonviolence, truth, non-stealing, chastity, and non-attachment (more on these points in a future post). Mahavira’s teachings were transmitted orally at first, making them susceptible to interpretation and confusion with rapid degradation of their meanings.

Mahavira’s teachings became incomprehensible by being scrambled in repeated oral translations before they could be fully written down. Hinduism and Buddhism almost suffered the same fate. The three foundational religions of India, then, are Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Sikhism arose later. The rest of the common religions of India are not native: Christianity and Islam (Mohammedanism).

Here is what it says in the Free Dictionary:

Mahavira (Mahāvīra), also known as Vardhamāna, was the twenty-fourth Tirthankara (ford maker) of Jainism. In the Jain tradition, it is believed that Mahavira was born in early part of the 6th-century BC into a royal family in what is now BiharIndia. At the age of 30, he left his home in pursuit of spiritual awakening, abandoned all worldly possessions, and became an ascetic. For the next twelve-and-a-half years, Mahavira practiced intense meditation and severe austerities, after which he is believed to have attained Kevala Jnana (omniscience). He preached for 30 years, and is believed by Jains to have died in the 6th-century BC. Outside the Jain tradition, scholars such as Karl Potter consider his biographical details as uncertain,[1] with some suggesting he lived in the 5th-century BC contemporaneously with the Buddha. Mahavira died at the age of 72, and his remains were cremated.[2][3]

After he gained Kevala Jnana, Mahavira taught that the observance of the vows ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (chastity) and aparigraha (non-attachment) is necessary to spiritual liberation. He gave the principle of Anekantavada (many sided reality),[4] Syadvada and Nayavada. The teachings of Mahavira were compiled by Gautama Swami (his chief disciple) and were called Jain Agamas. These texts were transmitted by an oral tradition by Jain monks, but are believed to have been largely lost by about the 1st-century when they were first written down. The surviving versions of the Agamas taught by Mahavira are some of the found-ational texts of Jainism.

https://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Mahavira

(photograph by Manfred Antranias Zimmer courtesy of pixabay.com)

Wearing two masks and making sure they fit tightly increases protection: experiments by US CDC

2021-02-10

The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducted experiments in January to determine the effectiveness of wearing a cloth mask over a three-ply medical procedure mask and found them encouraging. They estimated that wearing two masks reduces exposure by more than 90% under laboratory conditions.

If both source and recipient of potentially infected aerosols wear double masks, then exposure is reduced 96%.

The CDC report, dated February 10, 2021, is available here.

(corona photo by mohamed Hassan courtesy of pixabay.com (creative commons))

Vaccines and new variants of SARS-COV-2: already one vaccine is ineffective against South African variant.

2021-02-10

USA Today ran a report that the Astra-Zeneca vaccine was suspended from South Africa because preliminary studies had shown “minimal” effectiveness against the South African variant. The developers plan to adjust their vaccine to better match the genetic makeup of the newer strain.

The virus has had a tremendous opportunity to mutate because there have been so many infections throughout the world, approaching 100 million cases. On top of that, patients who are severely immunosuppressed have been treated with courses of monoclonal antibodies as well as convalescent serum. They often survive for long periods with high levels of virus circulating in their systems, providing an environment in which mutations will thrive.

Frequent changes in vaccines will be needed to suppress new variants. Of course, more virus genome sequencing will be needed to help detect mutations.

In a better development, genome sequencing is taking off in the United States. Federal support for sequencing has begun to develop. Op-eds and opinion pieces have begun to emphasize the need for added resources for sequencing as well.

(SARS-COV-2 Electron Microscopic photo courtesy NIAID

Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”– a repost from 2018

2021-02-01

Actually, according to this blog (which looks authoritative), posted by Richard M. Langworth in 2011, Churchill didn’t say that; there are no references available, or no attribution for that statement was found.  Neither is the statement pictured authentic (according to Mr. Langworth), although it is frequently attributed to Churchill as well as Lincoln.  Churchill did, however, say, “…do not be carried away by success into demanding more than is right or prudent.” (He was speaking before the House of Commons in March of 1919, shortly after the Allies had won the First World War.)  Which is not nearly as inspiring although it may be much more practical.

I heartily recommend, despite the error of attribution (the quote titling this post) that occurs at the end, the movie “Darkest Hour”, a dramatization of Churchill’s election as prime minister and the British strategic miracle of Dunkirk– the rescue of nearly 300,000 men from the beaches at Dunkirk was only made possible by the sacrifice of a much-better equipped pocket of 4,000 soldiers at the nearby port of Calais, who provoked the wrath of Hitler’s panzer tank army.  The movie covers Churchill’s speeches to the Commons, including his famous, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds… we shall fight in the fields; we shall fight on the streets… we shall never surrender.”  Much of the latter part of the movie concerns Churchill’s decision not to negotiate with Hitler (although a channel was opened through Mussolini, Neville Chamberlain decided to go along with Churchill and Lord Halifax, the other powerful pacifist, was exiled to Washington after Churchill’s defiant speech.)

This speech is re-enacted at the end of the movie; the quote attributed to him (mistakenly: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts”) appears at the very end after a few sentences describing the evacuation of Dunkirk after May 28 1940, and, five years later on May 8 1945, the victory over Germany.  Then the text states, “a few months later he was defeated for re-election.”  So that quote fits in that place well in the movie, although it is disappointing to find out a few minutes later through Google that the statement is apocryphal.  The statement actually fits his life quite well too, since he was in the War Cabinet in the First World War and spent the entire peacetime interval between wars as a back-bencher, a lonely bellicose voice. As soon as the war was over, he lost his prominent position in government.

Donald’s Nazi Connection: He has Copied Hitler’s Speaking Style– an autopsy from 2015 and repost.

2021-02-01

Those who have heard Donald speak at one of his many well-attended rallies wonder where he got his mesmerizing speaking style and why people who support him appear to be hypnotized, or at least deeply affected by his personality.  There is a simple reason: he studied Adolf Hitler’s speaking style and copied it.

We know why Donald has become such an effective speaker: he had a book of Hitler’s speeches.  He may have read the speeches, and this would be why Donald’s speeches have such a mesmerizing quality to them, a quality which is rarely mentioned but becomes obvious when one listens to even a short excerpt from his speeches.  Here’s his final campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  It seems easy to imagine that Donald has studied Hitler’s speeches and is copying his style.  This is not to imply that Donald intends to employ the same techniques and perform the same atrocities that Hitler did.

From an article by Marie Brenner published in Vanity Fair in 1990 (reposted in July 2015, when Donald went for the nomination):

Donald Trump has always viewed his father as a role model. In The Art of the Deal, he wrote, “Fred Trump was born in New Jersey in 1905. His father, who came here from Sweden . . . owned a moderately successful restaurant.” In fact, the Trump family was German and desperately poor. “At one point my mother took in stitching to keep us going,” Trump’s father told me. “For a time, my father owned a restaurant in the Klondike, but he died when I was young.” Donald’s cousin John Walter once wrote out an elaborate family tree. “We shared the same grandfather,” Walter told me, “and he was German. So what?”
Although Fred Trump was born in New Jersey, family members say he felt compelled to hide his German background because most of his tenants were Jewish. “After the war, he thought that Jews would never rent from him if they knew his lineage,” Ivana reportedly said. Certainly, Fred Trump’s camouflage could easily convey to a child the impression that in business anything goes. When I asked Donald Trump about this, he was evasive: “Actually, it was very difficult. My father was not German; my father’s parents were German . . . Swedish, and really sort of all over Europe . . . and I was even thinking in the second edition of putting more emphasis on other places because I was getting so many letters from Sweden: Would I come over and speak to Parliament? Would I come meet with the president?”
Donald Trump appears to take aspects of his German background seriously. John Walter works for the Trump Organization, and when he visits Donald in his office, Ivana told a friend, he clicks his heels and says, “Heil Hitler,” possibly as a family joke.
Last April, perhaps in a surge of Czech nationalism, Ivana Trump told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed. Kennedy now guards a copy of My New Order in a closet at his office, as if it were a grenade. Hitler’s speeches, from his earliest days up through the Phony War of 1939, reveal his extraordinary ability as a master propagandist.
“Did your cousin John give you the Hitler speeches?” I asked Trump.
Trump hesitated. “Who told you that?”
“I don’t remember,” I said.
“Actually, it was my friend Marty Davis from Paramount who gave me a copy of Mein Kampf, and he’s a Jew.” (“I did give him a book about Hitler,” Marty Davis said. “But it was My New Order, Hitler’s speeches, not Mein Kampf. I thought he would find it interesting. I am his friend, but I’m not Jewish.”)
Later, Trump returned to this subject. “If I had these speeches, and I am not saying that I do, I would never read them.”
Is Ivana trying to convince her friends and lawyer that Trump is a crypto-Nazi? Trump is no reader or history buff. Perhaps his possession of Hitler’s speeches merely indicates an interest in Hitler’s genius at propaganda. The Führer often described his defeats at Stalingrad and in North Africa as great victories. Trump continues to endow his diminishing world with significance as well. “There’s nobody that has the cash flow that I have,” he told The Wall Street Journal long after he knew better. “I want to be king of cash.”

An article in Business Insider from August 2015 references the interview that Marie Brenner had in 1990, and goes on to explain the probable reasons for Donald’s odd reading material:

Hitler was one of history’s most prolific orators, building a genocidal Nazi regime with speeches that bewitched audiences.

“He learned how to become a charismatic speaker, and people, for whatever reason, became enamored with him,” Professor Bruce Loebs, who has taught a class called the Rhetoric of Hitler and Churchill for the past 46 years at Idaho State University, told Business Insider earlier this year.

“People were most willing to follow him, because he seemed to have the right answers in a time of enormous economic upheaval.”

Thus, we have a reason why Donald has become such an effective speaker, and why his speeches have such a mesmerizing quality to them, a quality which is rarely mentioned but becomes obvious when one listens to even a short excerpt from his speeches.  Here’s his final campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  It seems easy to imagine that Donald has studied Hitler’s speeches and is copying his style.  This is not to imply that Donald intends to employ the same techniques and perform the same atrocities that Hitler did.

A video clip from Business Insider tells us an interesting factoid about Donald: he has for years subscribed to a “clipping service” which employs an assistant to go through all the newspapers and clip out stories about Donald.  Every morning, he is given a stack of these clippings, with his name circled in red, and he goes through them.  It is said that he doesn’t read them word for word, but just skims the stories and gets the gist of whether he is being lauded or ridiculed.

So we have an insight into Donald’s success in roping together gullible people, especially those who have received little information other than attending one of his speeches: Donald copies Adolf Hitler’s speaking style.  It is likely that Donald does not consciously intend to copy Hitler’s ruling style or his policies, but the Republican Party is not so terribly far away from fascism.

 

 

(cartoon courtesy of pixabay.com)

Ronald Reagan, Our Most Demented President: a repost, plus the national debt. From ancient history: 2015.

2021-02-01

A new analysis of Ronald Reagan’s news conferences demonstrates that he showed evidence of dementia while he was still president, in fact during his campaign for a second term.  Everyone knows that Reagan wasn’t diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease until 1994, six years after he left the presidency.

The analysis, reported in the New York Times (NYT), shows that Reagan developed changes consistent with early Alzheimer’s Disease while he was still president.  He is not known to have displayed any clear loss of decision making ability or memory, but certain subtle changes were already obvious during his debates with Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale in 1984.  Compared to the elder President Bush, Reagan showed signs of using words repetitively and substituting nonspecific words like “thing” for specific nouns.  He also showed a progressive impoverishment in his vocabulary.

Another telltale symptom is the routine that Reagan used when participating in Cabinet meetings.  He had a set of index cards that spelled out how he was to respond to each Cabinet member’s speech.  The cards were prepared by his staff to cue him what questions to ask of each member; at the end, he was given an exit line, just as if he were reading from a script.

Although the author of the NYT article, Lawrence K. Altman, MD, claims that there was no evidence of loss of decision making ability, we can confidently conclude that Reagan entered office with a weak grasp of politics and a superficial knowledge level in general.  Reagan’s decision to dramatically lower taxes, especially on wealthy people, led to a sudden deficit in current accounts, and he was later forced to raise taxes again to close the gap.  He was warned by his economic advisers of the likely result of his tax reductions, but he clung to the mistaken belief that lowering taxes would somehow increase collections.

At the same time (August 1981), Reagan suddenly fired all the striking air traffic controllers, ignoring their legitimate grievances about working conditions that had prompted the strike.   The controllers had actually supported his candidacy for president, based on promises his campaign made to the union about how negotiations would go after he was elected.  After Reagan won the presidency, his negotiators took a hard line with the union, basically going back on the promises he had made to get elected.

The controllers had been losing money to inflation for the past decade, and their demands included a large pay raise.  This was unpopular with the general public, and sympathy was on Reagan’s side.  Since civil service employees were forbidden by law to strike, they were taking an extreme risk.  Reagan fired all the striking workers (the majority of the workforce) and banned them from civil service jobs for life.  It took almost ten years (according to Wikipedia) for the air traffic control system to return to full operation; ironically, many of the changes that the union had demanded were instituted because of the shortage of controllers caused by the firing.

Many controllers were forced into poverty by this action, and only 800 of them got their jobs back when Clinton rescinded Reagan’s orders blacklisting them.  The cost to the airlines and the flying public was vastly greater than if Reagan had acquiesced to the controller’s demands, but to Reagan it was the principle of the thing (an extremely simplistic point of view, as opposed to a nuanced perception.)

Reagan’s action gave private employers a tremendous boost in confidence in dealing with their own workers.  They began to treat them as if they could be hired and fired at will, without giving any cause.  The result has been a steady erosion in the number of workers represented by unions and the rights of workers in general.  The most negative result, indirectly, was to force down the average wage despite dramatic increases in productivity.  The average wage is less now than it was forty years ago, in part because of how Reagan treated the air traffic controllers.

The end result of Reagan’s actions was to reverse the improvements in conditions for workers that had occurred since WW II.  The level of income and wealth inequality has returned to the unsustainable levels that prevailed just prior to the Great Depression.  This inequality is destabilizing to society; if current trends continue, democratic government will be lost, and the United States will be governed by a small oligarchy, with a large police force and many people in jail.  Such a situation is conducive to social unrest and possibly even civil war.

(Ronald Reagan courtesy of WikiImages)

How Ronald Reagan and George Bush increased the national debt to unheard-of levels. How about now?

Ronald Reagan campaigned partly on the assertions that the national debt was “the highest ever” and “out of control.”  The national debt at the time he was elected was about 33% of the gross domestic product (GDP); this was the lowest proportion of GDP in 50 years, and could only be described truthfully as “the highest ever” if one ignored inflation and the relationship of debt to GDP.  The national debt was not “out of control” until he got his hands on it.  He presided over a nearly 190% increase in the national debt as a proportion of GDP, from approximately $1 trillion to $2.9 trillion.

Reagan performed this magic by dramatically reducing taxes on the wealthy in his first year in office.  The deficit increased so rapidly that he was forced to slightly scale back his tax reductions later.  His excuse for this maneuver was the notion that cutting taxes on the wealthy would inspire them to increase their income so greatly that total tax collections would actually increase.  There was no sane precedent for this notion, and George HW Bush famously called it “voodoo economics” when he campaigned against Reagan (before he was selected as the vice presidential candidate.)

The notion that lowering taxes would increase tax receipts was based on the idea that the wealthy would work harder and produce more income if a larger percentage of their income was left to them after taxes.  This is known as the “Laffer curve.”  The notion that if you tax the wealthy too much, they will “goof off” (not work as hard), is essentially this: why bother to work as hard when you only get to keep 50% of your income after taxes than when you get to keep 85% of your income after taxes?  The problem is that the wealthy are struggling to spend even a fraction of the money they are getting, and usually add the surplus to their savings or brokerage accounts (instead of spending it, as a poor person would…)

Before Reagan, the national debt had been dramatically increased during WW II to allow for arming the rest of the free world and the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire.  At the end of the war, the national debt was 120% of the GDP.  After the war, a booming economy and relatively high taxes allowed us to pay down the debt while at the same time increasing our GDP steadily.  Before the war, our economy had been in the doldrums and had not recovered from the Great Depression.  Deficit spending, on disposable items like bombs and bullets, primed maximum employment and increasing wages, with notable prosperity as a result.

Reagan’s deficit spending, by contrast to WW II spending, had only marginal beneficial effects on the economy.  This was because the deficit was created by tax cuts that resulted in a loss of government revenue rather than spending on tangible items which transferred revenue to the producers of those items.  After Reagan, GHW Bush continued the deficit spending by not raising taxes to previous levels; in his single term, the first Bush increased the deficit a further 54%, from $2.9 trillion to $4 trillion.  The economy continued to function marginally, and income inequality increased.

The next president, Clinton, took a different tack: he raised taxes and tried to balance the budget.  The total national debt increased 41% during his two terms.  By the end of his second term, the budget was nearly balanced.  If he had not had to pay interest on the new debt, it is estimated that he would have paid off all of the remaining debt from WW II; he paid about $2.2 trillion in interest on the debt accrued from before he assumed office.

The second President Bush increased the national debt by a further 72%, primarily by cutting taxes and pursuing an off-the-books war in Iraq.  He was also forced to pay some $800 billion to bail out the banks after the crash of 2007-8.  During his first campaign for office, he promised to “retire nearly $1 trillion in debt over the next four years.  This will be the largest debt reduction achieved by any nation at any time…”  He increased the debt by at least $6.1 trillion, starting in his first year in office.  Much of the increase in debt was interest paid on the previous deficits.

When Obama took office, he inherited an economy in free fall and a nearly $1 trillion yearly deficit.  This shortfall has been dramatically reduced, year by year, and is now estimated at $400 billion a year.  At the same time, jobs have increased every month since 2010, and the unemployment rate has decreased to below 6%.  Unfortunately, part of this percentage decrease has been a result of people dropping out of the workforce, despairing of finding work.  During his terms in office so far, Obama has increased the national debt by 23%.  The debt now represents between  72 and 80% of GDP, depending on how the terms are defined and whose figures you use (see Wikipedia.)

The inescapable conclusion is that Republican contenders for presidential office will lie to get elected (not that Democrats are necessarily any more truthful.)  We must also conclude that the Republican policy of reducing taxes results in deficit spending which does not stimulate the economy, in contrast to deficit spending that is used to produce something (even if that something is blown up or scrapped.)

Thus, we see that, in order to stimulate the economy and improve prosperity (meaning growing incomes and improving income equality), it is necessary to 1) raise taxes on the wealthy and 2) spend some of the money on producing something rather than just paying down the debt.  The obvious thing to produce (or repair) is, based on observation, infrastructure like roads and bridges.

Most of the information in this post was taken from a site called http://zfacts.com/ which has a segment on debt as a percent of GDP: http://zfacts.com/p/318.html as well as a lot of other material I haven’t dived into just yet.