Bits ‘n’ Pieces: Dec. 17, 2020

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

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

As syndicated columnist Jim Hightower explains it, understanding the difference between millionaires and billionaires is made easier with a clock analogy: Think of each dollar as a second, and in 11.5 days you have a million dollars. To amass $1 billion dollars would amount to 32 years. He noted that this summer a bank survey revealed that billionaires on average stashed away $4 billion — each. 

They didn’t do so by working harder or creating a new product that benefits mankind, Hightower wrote. Rather, they let their money work for them, and that’s worked well during the pandemic. For the multi-millionaires money has been gained by store closures, taking bailout money and/or declaring bankruptcy. Example: While JCPenney closed 154 stores, the company gave its CEO a $4.5 million cash bonus.

Inequality Media reports that Amazon owner Jeff Bezos is worth $180 billion, making him the world’s richest person. In the last nine months, Bezos’ wealth increased such that if he gave each of his employees $105,000 he would still be as rich as he was before the pandemic began (but he did not). Nonetheless, Bezos has not invested in a COVID-19-safe workplace, and 20,000 U.S.-based Amazon employees have been infected — according to Amazon’s own estimate — in exchange for low pay and sometimes unsafe work conditions. Amazon has added 400,000 jobs to keep up with pandemic and holiday shopping.

Millions of families are entrenched in the holidays but live in the shadow of being, on average, $5,000 behind on their rent, The Washington Post says.

In the four decades since inequality started growing (1979-2019), the “bottom 90%” saw wages grow 26%, while the top 1% saw their wages grown 160%, according to a new Economic Policy Institute report. As for the “tippy-top” 0.1%, annual wages increased 345.2%.

Why should Congress hold out for a COVID-19 relief package that includes $1,200 direct payments? Vermont Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders explained: one out of four workers is either unemployed or making less than $20,000 annually; more than 90,000 are un- or under-insured; tens of millions face eviction; and hunger is “exploding.” Sanders said that of the previously passed CARES Act, $560 billion remains unused. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are ready to pass $740 billion for defense, with no one saying it’s too much. 

“If we are concerned about the debt,” Sanders said, then, “we need progressive taxation, we need to end corporate welfare, we need to end the bloated military budget, but we do not need, in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, to punish working families who are hurting so badly today.”

What’s holding up COVID-19 relief? California Democratic Rep. Katie Porter tweeted there’s been bipartisan agreement at the negotiating table (for perhaps $1.4 trillion), with the exception of Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, who refused to advance aid unless “all COVID-related lawsuits filed that ‘allege injury or death’ due to corporate negligence” are wiped away. Porter said those lawsuits signify “the worst of the worst examples of disregard for human life,” being cases filed for nursing home patients and grocery store workers. 

As the COVID-19 death toll passed 300,000, on Dec. 13 all 50 states were scheduled for the first COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to hospitals, The New York Times reported. High risk health care workers and nursing home residents will be prioritized. Because the vaccine can cause fever and aches, it is being administered on a staggered schedule among health workers.

Vaccine shortages: President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed negotiations are “ongoing” for meeting vaccine demand, but former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who is now on vaccine-producer Pfizer’s board, said last week that the drug company had made numerous offers that the government rejected, according to Politico.

When the Electoral College certified Dec. 14 that Joe Biden won the presidency (with 7 million more votes than were cast for Trump), U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who has been accused of frequently acting on Trump’s behalf, submitted his letter of resignation. Some media are speculating that he doesn’t want to be in office when Trump announces pardons Barr would not approve of.

Blast from the past: In an essay written in 1967, “Truth and Politics,” philosopher Hannah Arendt cautioned that “a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth” is a necessary element for a totalitarian dictatorship.

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