Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Flash: COVID Quacks, Madoff Pays Out More

A Stitch in Time for Some Madoff Victims
 The Department of Justice announced that on April 20, the Madoff Victim Fund (MVF) began its fifth distribution of approximately $378.5 million in funds forfeited to the U.S. Government in connection with Bernie Madoff's investment fraud scheme, bringing the total distributed to over $2.7 billion to nearly 38,000 victims worldwide. Bernie Madoff has currently served 10 years of a 150-year sentence related to his Ponzi scheme.

 Worse than Eating Tide Pods

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida has entered a temporary injunction halting the sale of an unapproved, unproven, and potentially dangerous coronavirus (COVID-19) treatment product, the Department of Justice announced today.

The Department of Justice alleges that the defendants, Genesis and its principals sell and distribute a product called Miracle Mineral Solution, also referred to as MMS.  Genesis sells MMS through its websites claiming that it will cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent Coronavirus, which includes COVID-19, as well as other diseases including Alzheimer’s, autism, brain cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis, among others.  MMS is a chemical product which, when combined with the included activator, creates a powerful bleach product that the defendants market for oral ingestion.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has previously issued public warnings to consumers that MMS can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and symptoms of severe dehydration.  The Justice Department sought preliminary relief from the court.

“The Department of Justice will take swift action to protect consumers from illegal and potentially harmful products being offered to treat COVID-19,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt.



Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Amateur Hour- Voting During Coronavirus

Wisconsin’s presidential primary elections- and a state supreme court justice race- were held on Tuesday April 7th in the midst of stay-at-home orders. These are the first statewide races in the US since primaries in Florida, Arizona and Illinois on March 17th. Some commentators have related local COVID-19 outbreaks to in-person voting during the March 17th primaries, but the medical community has not agreed with this hypothesis.  

In Wisconsin, many citizens relied on in-person voting, and waited with face masks in social-distanced lines. For health reasons, most poll workers – predominately elderly volunteers- stayed home, closing most polling places in Milwaukee and Green Bay. Long lines were observed in these cities, perhaps because many absentee ballots were not mailed to voters on time. Absentee voters had to find a witness to sign their ballot and envelope, and some citizens were reluctant to come out of self-isolation to meet this requirement. Results will be tabulated after April 13th, which will reveal voter participation and turnout rates by city and county. There is a good chance that the media will declare this fairly low-stakes vote a spoiled election. These kinks- make that structural flaws- need to be addressed well ahead of the November elections, and preferably before the April 7th results are finalized. Don’t take Wisconsin to the whipping post over this; the state is only a messenger of situations across the country, yet to come.

My city, Norfolk, Virginia, will be holding local elections on May 5th. The Office of Elections recommends that citizens apply for an absentee ballot. The approved steps for requesting an absentee ballot in light of COVID-19 is a workaround, using the existing vote-by-mail request. Social-distancing absentee voters will swear or affirm, under felony penalty for making willfully false material statements, that “I have a reason or condition that prevents me from going to the polls on Election Day”, that condition being “my disability or illness”. If this doesn’t count as voter discouragement, tell me.  Because of how state laws on absentee voting are written, the use of workarounds like this will be common across the country.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Guam Hands: Coronavirus

As high value assets with geopolitical importance, Aircraft Carriers and Ballistic Missile Submarines mythically have a “direct line to the President”. An enemy had incapacitated the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt; not the Iranian Navy, who practice sinking American warships on simulator; nor was it an explosive garbage skiff, the kind which sent USS Cole home early from deployment. The enemy is coronavirus, waging its war on the crew of USS Roosevelt.

As crewmembers fell ill, with cases outnumbering the capacity of the shipboard medical team, the Commanding Officer of the carrier would’ve sent Navy Pinnacle messages through classified lines, notifying the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of Defense. Decision was made to bring the ailing ship into Guam to isolate the ill and provide the remaining sailors some needed social distancing.    

Loose lips sank ships in World War Two, but “Loose Tweets Sink Fleets” in the 21st century. At sea, it is possible to secure non-essential communications in a maneuver dubbed “River City”. Loose messages sent by email or by satellite phone are held in queue. Meanwhile, the CTs (cryptologic technicians) can sniff out any renegade short-wave radio sets. But once the ship is in sight of land, personal cellphones fly out of pockets and into texting hands. Relatively speaking, it is better for an experienced Captain’s letter to leak to the press, than for a hundred crewmembers’ social media posts to become news of the day. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.

“Restriction of Movement”, the military term for coronavirus self-isolation, is a major undertaking on Guam. On a normal day, housing costs for sailors and airmen “living on the economy”- off the base- is overpriced. A single off-base event like Chief’s Gala or Navy Birthday Ball can sell out every mid-price hotel on Guam. To house thousands of sailors under restriction of movement, empty tourist hotels are being requisitioned for self-quarantine.

The infected sailors will lean heavily on the benefits of youth. Of greater concern is that a number of highly-skilled chiefs and officers are in their 40’s and 50’s; as leaders, maintainers and reactor operators, their skills are still needed onboard this ship. Healthcare facilities are limited in Guam. There is a sizeable Naval Hospital, which serves active duty and retirees. Many Guam residents travel three hours by plane to Manila, Philippines for specialized medical care; likewise Filipino veterans of the US Armed Forces are entitled to care on Guam. International travel has been curtailed: three Manila flights per day has turned into three flights per week.

Once the fog of war clears, the military or Congress owes Captain Crozier, USS Roosevelt’s relieved commanding officer, a hearing into how the regular lines of communication broke down. Shortcomings in operational security occur at the highest levels, to include then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had some trouble with sensitive government emails on a personal computer. Assuming no prejudice is held, Captain Crozier’s future remains bright.

Command of an aircraft carrier is one of the highest accomplishments among US Navy officers. One must be a smart and tactical aviator, a competent ship’s skipper, and a trusted military leader. In general terms, an American aircraft carrier can be described as a city squeezed between a nuclear power plant and international airport, with the perimeter of a warship. This is a unique responsibility. Today, with the assistance of civilian mariners, commanding officers of hospital ships and submarine tenders do not cross-train as surface ship operators, which can take a decade in ascending billets; after accomplishing mastery in their primary warfare community. These traditionally were officer-of-the-deck, executive officer, and commanding officer of a large auxiliary ship. Aircraft carriers stand alone in years of a specialized preparation track.

(Between assignments supporting aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, and the Guam-based submarine tenders, this developing story is of interest to me.)

Friday, April 3, 2020

Beggars in the Kingdom

I was born poor, I lived poor, I will die poor”, wrote Pope Pius X in 1914. This was a man who donned the Papal Tiara, rode atop a Sedia, and wore full regalia at the altar. As the Vicar of Christ, he owned none of these emblems, and had no blood heirs to this inheritance.

“The poor will always be with you”, taught Jesus Christ in the lesson of the widow’s mite. In this lesson, Jesus (see Mark 14:7 or Matthew 26:11) demonstrates that we should give our best to higher purposes, even as we rightly turn our hearts to charity. Critics of church wealth forget humble Jesus’ admonishment against his disciples, who instinctively criticized the woman from Bethany who anointed Jesus with precious perfume. This instinct towards modesty in faith is natural, and is ingrained in Buddhist and Hindu teachings, and within my own family. Critics of the Tridentine Rite conjure up imagery of medieval times. They bring up the chasm between wealthy church and insular clergy; against poor, illiterate peasants separated by an altar rail; and whose attention is garnished with bells, gold chalices and royal vestments. They contrast the stone facades of Vatican City to poverty in Africa, wondering how wealth can be transferred. To these critics, church finery represent the trappings of royalty; instead of a sense of transcendence and permanence.  I deject, the Church is:

Patron of artistry and craftsmanship- gifts to the Church are made by artists sponsored by wealthy patrons, or even the joint contribution of parishioners.

Protector of heritage- monasteries maintained ancient libraries through the Dark Ages.

A commonwealth- In contrast to the jewels of private citizens, church splendor- beautiful objects- can be shared by parishioners. Furthermore, precious metals such as gold and silver historically served as an emblem of sovereign strength without the need for bloodshed. Look at Switzerland’s enviable position as an example.

One to draw attention to the altar and the priest. Pope Benedict XVI’s vestments (and Pope Francis’ simple garb) draws the attention of media and its millions of viewers. This coverage might otherwise be given to the Queen of England.

Can the Church do better to help the less fortunate? It is true that the Vatican Bank has large investments in London real estate and Beretta firearms. To help further the Church’s recent push towards environmental justice, I would suggest that the Vatican expanding its holdings to include acres of threatened, unique forest preserves in places like the Amazon and Southeast Asia.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

New Smartphone Features I’d like to See

Lie Detector
Imagine how many lies and mistruths tell their parents over a smart. Polygraph and chest leads are optional, since this function will use GPS data and tone-of-voice analysis

Tactical Grenade
We already know that lithium batteries explode at the wrong time, in the wrong place. We’re just making it predictable.

Mood Ring
Consumer Therapy has been the American cure-all since World War Two. Get ads that relate to, and “fix”, how you are feeling.

Hormone Sensor
Picks out the meal that matches your feelings: pickle and ice cream; or bison and elk meat, this app knows it all.

Driving Mode
Because clicking seven times to get to the GPS map just isn’t safe

Hot Pack Mode
Boiling water and rubber pouches are so last century. Apply phone directly to aching body part. Notice hoe warm your phone gets in the car already.

Ship Mode
Equal representation of those who travel by a ship at sea instead of an airplane. Detects chokepoints like Gibraltar or the Strait of Hormuz that might have cell service.