The Rich and the Rest of Us
April 28, 2020
“You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic.” ― Robert A. Heinlein
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” ― George Orwell
Platforms & Propaganda: 21st Century Witch Hunt: Caught In A Webb Of Lies
Conspiracy theories can be wacky, laughable, deranged — they can also be seriously damaging and life-threatening, especially during a pandemic. Maatje Benassi’s life turned upside down since being victimized by George Webb, a prolific 59-year-old American misinformation peddler who regularly streams questionable diatribes on YouTube, where he’s amassed almost 100,000 followers and over 27 million views.
Conspiracy theorists began making evidence-free claims that Covid-19 was a US biological weapon early on. As the false information spread and mutated on social media platforms, proponent Webb honed in on Benassi, a US Army reservist, mother of two, and serious cyclist. Webb proclaimed Benassi started the pandemic, by bringing the disease to China when she participated in the Military World Games held last October in Wuhan. Although hundreds of US military athletes had participated, Benassi was picked to star in the imaginary plot to infect the world.
President Trump excoriated China as the originator of the disease; a Chinese government official countered by contending the US military brought the virus to China. Now Benassi and her husband, neither of whom have ever tested positive for the disease, are besmirched in conversations across Chinese social media about the outbreak, including among accounts that are known drivers of large-scale coordinated activities by their followers.
The couple’s home address has been posted online, they’ve received threats, and their social media inboxes were overrun with hate messages from conspiracy believers prior to being shut down. “It’s like waking up from a bad dream going into a nightmare day after day,” she said.
Webb admitted in the past his YouTube videos had included ads, meaning both the Google platform and Webb himself were making money off his dangerous propaganda.
Sarah Silbiger via Getty Images
The Silent Deaths of COVID-19
- An analysis of overall fatalities during the pandemic in 14 countries reveals that the global coronavirus death toll could be 60 percent higher than official reports. Deaths from all causes in the weeks of a location’s outbreak in March and April 2020 were compared to the average for the same period between 2015 and 2019.
- The mortality statistics show 122,000 deaths in excess of normal levels across these locations, considerably higher than the 77,000 official Covid-19 deaths reported for the same places and time periods. That amounts to a 50 per cent rise in overall mortality relative to the historical average for the locations studied.
- If the same level of under-reporting observed in these countries was happening worldwide, the global Covid-19 death toll would rise from the current official total of 201,000 to as high as 318,000. Excess mortality has risen the most in places suffering the worst Covid-19 outbreaks, suggesting these deaths are directly related to the virus. (Financial Times)
- Additional painting: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? by Paul Gauguin and hopefully this lightens things up: Bored Russians Posted Silly Art Parodies. The World Has Joined In. (NYT, $)
- Additional song: The Joy Formidable, Silent Treatment
Spencer Platt via Getty Images
Oil, Oil Everywhere But Not A Drop To Sell
- The oil market is in freefall. The crisis began with a global plummet in demand as Covid-19 spread and worldwide oil storage started filing rapidly. Retail investors were caught off guard last week when the May West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil price benchmark contract plunged into negative territory for the first time ever two days before expiry, as financial traders scrambled to avoid having to take delivery of oil.
- This week the sector collapsed into pandemonium after the biggest oil ETF said it would sell out of its June WTI futures position, triggering a massive swing in the price relationship between the June and July contracts. The WTI fell below zero for the first time in history, making US oil not only worthless but a liability, closing at -$37.63 a barrel on Monday.
- Brent Crude, the international oil price benchmark, ended down 24 percent Monday. The concern now is if it was possible for US oil to go so deeply negative, is the same historic nosedive in store for Brent Crude, the international oil price benchmark? The global oil market could be testing storage capacity limits in as little as three weeks. (CNBC, OilPrice)
- Houston’s ‘Horrifying’ Double Crisis: Oil Crash and Virus Shutdown (NYT)
- What’s Next for Global Oil Prices?: The Industry May Shut Down (Bloomberg, $) If you are a college student or have a .edu email address then “Bloomberg Media will be free for every college and graduate student in the world for the next three months.”
Additional World News
- China could have choked off the Mekong and aggravated a drought, threatening the lifeline of millions in Asia (CNBC)
- How Covid-19 and Benny Gantz saved Netanyahu (CNN)
- What if Covid-19 isn’t our biggest threat? (Guardian)
- Germany’s Covid-19 expert: ‘For many, I’m the evil guy crippling the economy’ (Guardian)
- South Korea beating coronavirus but anxiety grows over ‘new normal’ (NBC)
- In China, finding hope amid coronavirus (BBC)
- Hokkaido Forced to Reinstate Lockdown After Coronavirus Returned (Time)
- Seattle’s Leaders Let Scientists Take the Lead. New York’s Did Not (New Yorker)
- We Still Don’t Know How the Coronavirus Is Killing Us (NY Mag) & Opinion | The Infection That’s Silently Killing Coronavirus Patients (NYT)
- Moscow’s motives questioned over coronavirus aid shipment to Italy (Guardian)
The New Normal
- How Coronavirus Will Forever Change Airlines and the Way We Fly (Bloomberg, $)
- Safe Dining? Hard to Imagine, but Many Restaurants Are Trying (NYT)
- What Will Our New Normal Feel Like? Hints Are Beginning to Emerge (NYT)
- Sympathy Cards Are Selling Out (NYT)
Prosperity In The Time Of Covid-19? Oh, That’s Rich
- According to a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, between 18 March and 22 April the wealth of America’s richest people grew 10.5 percent. The billionaire class has added $308 billion to its wealth in four weeks, even as a record 26 million people lost their jobs. (After the last recession it took over two years for total billionaire wealth to get back to the levels they enjoyed in 2007.)
- And as the government handed out trillions of dollars to prop up an economy shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic, some of the richest were at the front of the line. A flotilla of big businesses, millionaires and billionaires managed to sail through loopholes in a $349 billion bailout meant to save hard-hit small businesses. About 150 public companies grabbed more than $600 million in forgivable loans before the funds ran out. Very few have returned the money.
- In Florida, only about 1 percent of the population has been tested for Covid-19, less than the national figure of 4 percent. The state is also in the midst of an unemployment claims crisis, with its underfunded benefits system unable to cope with the volume of people filing.
- Meanwhile, Fisher Island, a members-only location off the coast of Miami where the average income of residents is $2.2 million and the beaches are made from imported Bahamian sand, has received $2 million in taxpayer money. This month, the island purchased thousands of rapid Covid-19 blood test kits for all its residents and workers. (Guardian)
- Keep in mind the following quote is from the most capitalistic publication we know: “Pumping trillions of dollars into corporate credit and even high-yield debt will further distort markets already shaped by a decade of easy-money policies. This is no abstract concern. The result will be an acceleration of two economy wide transfers of wealth: from the middle class to the affluent and from the cautious to the reckless.” in The Fed Punishes Prudence: Its bailout for risky debt helps investors, not employees. (WSJ, $)
- American billionaires are $280 billion richer since COVID-19 (Fast Company)
- Additional painting: The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh
Additional USA News
- In four U.S. state prisons, nearly 3,300 inmates test positive for coronavirus — 96% without symptoms (Reuters)
- Some States Shouldn’t Ease Social Distancing Until At Least June, Modelers Say (NPR)
- Donald Trump set to fall back on xenophobia with re-election plan in tatters (Guardian)
- USDA let millions of pounds of food rot while food-bank demand soared (Politico)
- To Pressure Iran, Pompeo Turns to the Deal Trump Renounced (NYT, $)
- How Do You Sign ‘Don’t Drink Bleach’? (NYT)
- Traumatized migrant kids were being shot. One school district came up with a plan to save them (Guardian)
- Nancy Pelosi endorses Joe Biden for president in video remarks calling him the ‘personification of hope and courage’ (WaPo, $)
- Did John Bolton Outfox Himself on His Own Tell-All Book? (New Yorker)
21st Century Disney: I Like No Butts and I Cannot Lie
- The film industry has been making subtle changes to its movies for decades, and the digital age has made it easier than ever to cover their tracks. Disney has been especially guilty of this, what with all the politically incorrect skeletons in its closet.
- Not to be found on Disney+ is either the notorious Song of the South, or the original, racist lyrics of Aladdin’s opening number. A sequence from the credits sequence of Toy Story 2 — where Stinky Pete propositions two Barbie dolls — has also been quietly removed.
- Elsewhere, Disney’s main concerns have been swearing, violence and particularly smoking. Cigarettes have been digitally removed from both old cartoons and photographs of Walt Disney, who was a heavy smoker.
- First they came for the cigarette butts, then they came for Daryl Hannah’s. In the original 1984 mermaid romcom Splash, there’s a shot of Hannah diving into the sea after kissing a dumbstruck Tom Hanks. Hannah’s blond hair almost covers her naked bottom. In the new version, that hair has been digitally extended to cover her entire buttock area — and badly at that. It looks as if she’s wearing a hairy skirt.
- Disney is hardly alone in this particular practice of ‘revisionist history,’ but it does make one wonder if we might be in danger of sanitizing everything to an absurd degree. (Guardian)
- Additional songs: Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’ & Sir Mix-A-Lot – Baby Got Back
- How to eat your way to a healthy gut (BBC) Unfortunately chocolate is not mentioned here.
- For those in search of even more great art: Now Virtual and in Video, Museum Websites Shake Off the Dust (NYT, $)
- Independent book retailers are becoming the surprise winners in the coronavirus economy (WaPo, $)
- An innocent man spent 46 years in prison. And made a plan to kill the man who framed him. (CNN)
- We keep hearing anecdotes that there’s a lot of people who are drinking during the pandemic: ‘Quarantinis’ and beer chugs: Is the pandemic driving us to drink? (Guardian) & Happy Hour Comes Nearly Every Day for Social Drinkers as Coronavirus Keeps Them Home (WSJ, $) Fwiw at Daily Pnut almost everyone is a teetotaler. But we do have our vices: we love chocolate. Not cheap chocolate. Quality chocolate. As such we would have thrived in Mayan culture: The Maya civilization used chocolate as money. Imagine if the Mayan government was the USA right now, instead of pumping more cash into the economy let’s give people free chocolate. We don’t think this would be a bad idea!
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