Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Bits n’ pieces from east, west and beyond

by Compiled by Lorraine H. Marie
| December 9, 2022 7:00 AM

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact.

A recent sampling:

Congress recently intervened, enabled by the Railway Labor Act, and deterred a strike by railroad unions.

Forty percent of U.S. freight is moved by rail, according to The New York Times. Low regard for railroad laborers has been part of the system since its inception, with a goal of rewarding investors when large profits are made on the backs of laborers.

Pre-pandemic, close to a third of the nation’s railroad workforce was laid off, resulting in a larger (and riskier) workload for each employee, but “handsome stock dividends” for investors. (Aside: Railroad workers who have to travel seek out cheap hotels; one said he bought cheap clothes he could throw away to avoid bringing bedbugs home.)

The U.S. has no national standard on paid sick leave, in contrast to most industrialized nations, CNN reported. The stats: 33 million U.S. workers have no paid sick leave, most of them low-wage earners.

A separate Congressional vote on giving railroad workers seven days paid sick days failed in a 52 to 43 Senate vote; 60 votes were needed to pass it. Six Republicans and all but one Democrat voted yes on sick leave.

It remains to be seen if the public blames workers for wanting sick leave, or railroad management for refusing to grant it.

Medicare (Dis)Advantage: A report from the Inspector General of Health and Human Services Dept., which examined a week’s worth of Medicare Advantage claims in 2019, found 18% were wrongfully denied, and Advantage plans were systematically overbilling the government.

Russian natural gas is being replaced with heat pumps in Germany: Heating homes has become more expensive, and families are turning to a climate-friendly 1970s technology, the heat pump. The New York Times said Germany’s sales of heat pumps have doubled in recent years. In contrast, Finland and Norway already have 10 times the number of heat pumps.

So far the biggest problem for Germany is an inability to meet demand for the pumps in a timely way - both from installers and manufacturers.

A Rand Corporation report says Americans pay 2.56 times more for prescription drugs as compared to people in 32 other countries. Elements of the Inflation Reduction Act seek to correct that.

Hundreds of unnecessary deaths from Covid unfold every day due to underuse of Paxlovid, The New York Times reported. Use of Paxlovid could shrink the daily death toll to 50 (CDC says the toll is currently an average of 300 Covid deaths daily, most in those 65 or older).

For those unable to use Paxlovid because of interactions with another drug in use, monoclonal antibodies are recommended.

“Red Covid” areas - conservative areas where Covid rates are higher and vaccination rates are lower -- could benefit from a Paxlovid response, but 18 of 20 of those red states show low use of Paxlovid.

Making waves, maybe not red: Presidential contender Donald Trump recently asked on his Truth Social media platform if the 2020 election results should be tossed, since he says they were the result of “massive fraud.”

He said that “allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”

The White House response: “The Constitution has been a sacrosanct document for over 200 years” and has “guaranteed that freedom and rule of law prevail…It’s the ultimate monument to all who have given their lives to defeat self-serving despots that abused their power and trampled on fundamental rights. Attacking the Constitution and all it stands for is anathema to the soul of our nation…You cannot only love America when you win.”

Others stated that Trump’s call for termination of the Constitution was a bid to establish a dictatorship.

Initially, Republican Party leaders did not comment. But Liz Cheney, disowned by the party for wanting to hold Trump accountable for the Jan. 6 riot, commented: “No honest person can now deny that Trump is the enemy of the Constitution.”

And Republican Adam Kinzinger stated “not a single conservative can legitimately support him, and not a single supporter can be called a conservative.”

Following an eight week Dept. of Justice trial, five people were recently found guilty of seditious conspiracy (including the leader of the Oath Keepers) and other charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack that attempted to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power.

Two more seditious conspiracy trials are slated for this month, according to The Washington Post.

Various media reported that earlier this week, following a six week trial, the Trump Organization was found guilty of all charges that spanned a 15-year tax fraud scheme. Reports said the scheme was “orchestrated” by top company executives, and included criminal tax fraud, falsifying business records, and failure to report and pay taxes on compensation for top executives.

Blast from the past: In 2004 the 9/11 Commission, inside the Oval Office, asked President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney about the Sept. 11 attacks. Their responses were recently released when the government declassified a 31-page “memorandum for the record.” One of the CIA briefings Bush failed to take seriously was titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”

For more details Google “government declassifies 31-page 9/11 memorandum.”