Bits ‘n’ Pieces: August 20, 2020

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling:

Even though they have reserves of $100 billion, 60 of the U.S.’s largest hospital chains snagged $15 billion from the federal CARES Act, according to a report from The New York Times.

Ready or not, elections just became more complicated. Political videos are now easily doctored to entirely misrepresent a candidate. Tactics include clipping out crucial portions of dialogue, or slowing speech to create the appearance of intoxication. The Washington Post predicts that Russia will not hesitate to inundate social media with these realistic computer-generated videos.

While saying they don’t support Joe Biden’s entire presidential platform, former members of George W. Bush’s administration have formed a Super PAC to support Biden’s campaign, The Hill reported.

The U.S. had 66 billionaires in 1990. Today there are 614 and their net worth has grown 23% during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Americans for Tax Fairness.

IBM recently announced an end to its facial recognition products. Studies have shown the technology falsely identifies African American faces up to 100 times more often than Caucasians, The Week reported.

As of last summer, 99% of bailout money for farmers went to white farm operators, according to The Counter, a nonprofit newsroom that focuses on the food industry. Most of that aid has gone to the wealthiest 10% of farmers. The 2019 farm bailout cost $19 billion and was larger than the auto industry bailout during the Great Recession.

“If American health care were its own country, it would be the fourth largest in the world by gross domestic product,” according to a New York Times editor. She said the U.S spends an average of $3.5 trillion annually on health care, “more than Japan, Germany, France, China, the U.K., Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Australia combined.” Yet for all that expense, she added, the U.S. loses more people to preventable and treatable medical conditions than any of those countries do.”

Using widespread partisan gerrymandering, a political party can obtain fewer votes but gain more state or federal seats. Some call it parties picking their voters. Examples: the Associated Press reported that Democrats in 2018 would have won 16 more seats in the U.S. House had it not been for gerrymandering. Also in 2018 ,one of the two main parties in North Carolina had 51% of the vote but gained 77% of House seats. So far partisan-gerrymandered maps in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia have been overturned by the courts (in Texas federal judges said the gerrymandering was intentionally racist). Overturning of partisan-gerrymandered districts is also being pursued in Louisiana, Georgia and Alabama.

Research from Georgetown University has calculated that, spread a decade, $1 trillion for infrastructure would create more than 11 million jobs. Four years ago, President Donald Trump promised $1 trillion for infrastructure, which has not yet fully materialized.

According to Joseph Black, founder of the Made in the USA Foundation, the U.S. is not the richest country in the world; it is the 13th richest, based on per capita income. Those countries that are richer are Ireland, Norway, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Singapore.

Recreational use of drones in national parks has been prohibited for six years, but the message either hasn’t gotten out or is ignored, reflected by the thousands of recorded illegal drone incidents since then. Drone problems include spikes in heart rates for some species, according to Sierra magazine, as well as interruption of the pristine wilderness experience. Recreational drones are also a collision risk for other aircraft. But, drones are proving valuable for scientific research, mapping, fire management, search-and-rescue and monitoring geological events like landslides.

Build kids’ competence while taking a break. suggests a “Freaky Friday” where the kids become parents for the night. They fix dinner, get their parents to bed on time and then they stay up as late as they want. Make sure the kids know to check the locks and turn off the lights before they retire.

Blast from the past: The Black Death, a bacterial plague that began in 1347, destroyed up to 60% of the human population — 200 million people. The flea-borne bacterium was carried by rats from a sailing ship. It caused aches, vomiting, and pus and blood-filled sores in armpits and groins. Socioeconomically, since so many skilled workers died, there was a labor shortage, allowing peasants the leverage for demanding better working terms, eventually leading to the end of serfdom — and helping launch capitalism.

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