Public Service Announcement: Never trust someone’s friend about anything

In the crazy media world we live in these days, I saw multiple headlines about a story in which Nicki Minaj had tweeted that a friend of her cousin who lived in Trinidad and Tobago got swollen testicles and became impotent after taking a covid-19 vaccine and his fiancee called off their wedding. The ensuing publicity resulted in the minister of public health in that country wasting his time investigating this before announcing that they could not any evidence of swollen testicles.

I grant that this story has many clickbait features: A celebrity, covid-19, impotence, and swollen testicles.

But really? Whenever you hear an outlandish story, your guard should immediately go up. And you should definitely ignore the story if it is ascribed to an unidentified friend of even someone you know personally, let alone someone whom you do not know at all. That almost guarantees that the story is at best highly exaggerated or more likely outright false.

This has been a Public Service Announcement. We now go back to our regular programming.

How politicians’ books become best sellers

Prominent politicians write books and, despite the fact that the books may not contain a a single interesting or original thought, or indeed may not have been even written by them at all but instead by a ghostwriter, they usually end up on a best seller list. It is an open secret that politicians and their parties are the ones who buy many books in bulk and then give them away as gifts to party faithful, thus boosting their sales numbers. But who exactly ends up footing the bill for the purchases? It is the suckers who donate to their political campaigns.
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The problem of Facebook and mission statements

We know that misinformation via social media runs rampant around the world and has been the vehicle for creating massive amounts of conflict among various groups. But up to now, the havoc created worldwide has been localized, such as in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia, where it has fueled murderous conflicts between different ethnic, religious, and language groups in those countries. But the pandemic has more clearly revealed the global scale of the problem as lies and distortions about the virus and vaccines and masks have spread around the globe, hampering efforts to suppress the spread of the pandemic.
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The demise of the general opinion columnist

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Bernie Sanders handled an interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, where he managed to force her to deal with serious issues instead of the superficialities that are her forte. After writing it, it struck me that Dowd had not crossed my mind for a long time. I do not subscribe to the New York Times and never seek out their opinion columnists though once in a while I will read an article if a link comes up to their work that looks interesting. It has been ages since I came across any mention of Dowd. But she is not alone in being ignored. There was a time when regular opinion column writers like Dowd, David Brooks, George Will, Thomas Friedman, the late Charles Krauthammer, Richard Cohen, and the like would be referred to by others as sages or barometers of some issue. Now they seem to be largely ignored.
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Are Republican leaders and Fox News finally accepting the need for vaccinations?

With the rapid spread of the Delta variant of covid-19 that now makes up 83% of the cases, Republican opposition to the vaccines may be wavering. House minority leader Steve Scalise, who had refused to get the vaccine before, has just announced that he got the first shot.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) got his first dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine Sunday, calling it “safe and effective,” Nola reports.

Driving the news: Scalise said that his decision to get vaccinated was driven by the spread of the Delta variant, which he noted was “aggressive” as well as a recent spike in case numbers.

Why it matters: A number of public opinion polls have shown Republicans have been among the most vaccine-hesitant group in the country, and some have urged public officials to more publicly encourage constituents to get inoculated.

Fox News has been one of the biggest purveyors of misinformation about the extent and threat of covid-19 and has played a central role in increasing vaccine skepticism. This is appallingly irresponsible behavior given the risk to people’s lives. But it appears that reality may be finally sinking in with at least some of its show hosts.
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Bernie Sanders shows how to talk to a vapid journalist

One of the distinguishing features of Bernie Sanders is his relentless single-mindedness. In speeches and interviews, he refuses to waver from discussing the issues he considers important, such as health care, living wages, income inequality, child care, and the like. Oddly enough, some of the best interviewers he has faced are those on comedy shows, like Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and Trevor Noah, because those shows actually deal with serious topics, using humor to make their points. While he may share a quick passing joke with his host, he quickly gets back to business and those hosts let him do so, only interjecting with humorous asides in order to emphasize a point.
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Good grief! Enough with the British royals already!

I never ceased to be amazed at the fascination in the US with the British royal family, deeply engrossed over the minutiae of their lives. The normal pettiness, backbiting, and other dysfunctionalities that always exist in large extended multi-generational families suddenly become newsworthy if it involves any member of that family.

The latest is some fuss over the naming of a baby, if you can believe it.

What next? That there is disagreement over what brand of disposable diapers they want to use?

Give it a rest, media.


How the richest of the rich avoid paying taxes

The invaluable investigative news outfit ProPublica has come out with a blockbuster report on how little the really wealthy pay in taxes and ow they do it. It is based on secret IRS files that they received from an anonymous source.

In 2007, Jeff Bezos, then a multibillionaire and now the world’s richest man, did not pay a penny in federal income taxes. He achieved the feat again in 2011. In 2018, Tesla founder Elon Musk, the second-richest person in the world, also paid no federal income taxes.

Michael Bloomberg managed to do the same in recent years. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn did it twice. George Soros paid no federal income tax three years in a row.

ProPublica has obtained a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people, covering more than 15 years. The data provides an unprecedented look inside the financial lives of America’s titans, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg. It shows not just their income and taxes, but also their investments, stock trades, gambling winnings and even the results of audits.
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