Nel's New Day

October 17, 2017

DDT’s Expensive Swamp

Cutting the waste in government was a frequent claim of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) while on the campaign trail and the subject of an early executive order. DDT said that his executive order on March 13, 2017, would require a “thorough examination of every executive department and agency” to find out “where money is being wasted [and] how services can be improved.” His proposed budget slashes funds for the social network.

DDT should look to himself for waste in government. Although he has spent one night at New York’s Trump Tower since he was inaugurated, the apartment costs millions of dollars. He overcharged the facilities for the Secret Service there, requiring the command post to move to a trailer on the sidewalk in July. Expenditures for DDT’s golf trips are over $72 million, according to Trump Golf Count. At that rate, he’ll spend almost $400 million during his term.

DDT’s current campaigning for 2020 is on the taxpayer tab as well. When he went to Phoenix (AZ) to tout his “wall,” his campaign funds may have paid for the convention center and indoor security, but taxpayers were out almost $500,000 for his campaign event. Just employee overtime expenses for the Phoenix Police Department cost $336,887.

The costs of DDT’s family trips are astronomical. Just one ski vacation for Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, their spouses, their kids and their dogs cost taxpayers $330,000. The State Department paid the cost of $117,489.44 for the car rental charge when Tiffany Trump and her mother vacationed for two weeks in Italy. That was considerably cheaper than the $2 million that DDT cost the State Department during a 48-hour trip to Italy in May.

Secret Service is running out of money to protect DDT and his family of 18. Without congressional approval to increase the budget, 1,100 agents, one-third of them, will have to work overtime without pay. The current expenditure of $30 million is 250 percent more than the past annual cost of $12 million for President Obama and his family. The Secret Service protected 42 people around the clock until Donald Trump, Jr. refused his guard. After he said he wanted privacy, he was found killing moose in Alaska. Kellyanne Conway was also removed from the list.

Sen. Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced an amendment the 2018 appropriations bill to prevent Secret Service payment to any businesses owned or operated by DDT:

“None of the funds made available by this Act to the United States Secret Service may be used to purchase, rent, or otherwise acquire goods or services, including hotel rooms, office space, or golf carts, from entities that are owned or operated by the President or the immediate family of the President.”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) expanded Schiff’s plan to prohibit federal spending across the government at all “Trump-owned hotels, resorts, and other Trump-owned businesses.” The bills went nowhere but may have been educational.

In addition to DDT’s costs, taxpayers are paying for jetsetting Cabinet members:

  • (Former) Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price: Over $1 million in military and charter flights. When he resigned, Price said that he would reimburse the government $52,000. A millionaire who made stock trade in health-care companies while helping them with laws, Price has been a proponent of taking hundreds of billions of dollars from federal health programs. As HHS secretary, he backed a $6 billion cut to NIH and an overall 18 percent reduction to the HHS budget. His goal is to eliminate “waste.” He also cut 90 percent from the Affordable Care Act’s advertising budget from $100 million to $10 million and almost half of the budget for consumer “navigators.” Price’s excuse for chartering private planes is that he once missed a meeting because of a four-hour delay on a commercial flight. Storms had shut down all flights in Washington, not only Price’s scheduled flight but also private jets which he attempted to get. Price missed dinner on Thursday night but was still available to give his speech the next morning. His destination, a two-day industry conference at the luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel in Southern California, brings to question the excuse that he travels to be “connected with the real American people.” Another argument was how busy he was with the hurricanes; most of the chartered flights occurred before they hit the U.S.
  • EPA Director Scott Pruitt: Almost $60,000 for “non-commercial” flights. Pruitt spent 48 of 92 days traveling, most of the flights at least stopping in Oklahoma, possibly laying the groundwork for a senatorial campaign. One charter flight for $14,000 took Pruitt from Tulsa to Guymon (OK) to talk about closing the EPA’s ten regional offices by reassigning staff to state capitals—part of eliminating one-third of the EPA budget.
  • Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin: Over $800,000 in costs for flights, including a government jet to Kentucky (where he and his wife viewed the solar eclipse) plus his request to take a government jet on his honeymoon to Europe.
  • Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke: A number of flights on private and military aircraft, including between St. Croix to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as paying $12,000 to an oil-and-gas exploration firm for a charter flight instead of a commercial one because he was speaking to a political donor’s professional hockey team in Nevada. Zinke’s wife, manager of the campaign for Troy Downing who is a GOP candidate for a Montana senator, often travels with him as they stop at political fundraisers and donor events.
  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin: Payment for his wife’s costs to Europe where they spent half his time, four days, on vacation tours that included four palaces and the championship Wimbledon match. Just weeks earlier, Shulkin told staff to cut back on travel expenses.
  • Secretary of Energy Rick Perry: At least $58,000 for private flights.
  • Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao: Seven FAA jet flights, including to New York and Paris.

VP Mike Pence may have cost taxpayers approximately $250,000 last week to stage a PR stunt. He flew from Las Vegas to Indiana with a pool of reporters to follow DDT’s orders by walking out of the football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers after over 20 players knelt to protest police brutality. From there he flew to Los Angeles for a fundraiser. Worse than his staging this stunt was his statement that he saved people money because he would have flown to Washington, D.C. for the one night if he hadn’t gone to Indianapolis. Evidently no hotel openings in either Las Vegas or LA. Four Green Berets had been killed in Niger, but DDT ignored this tragedy to tweet against peaceful and legal protests by NFL athletes—29 times thus far.

DDT’s Cabinet runs high tabs in areas other than travel. Scott Pruitt’s protective 24/7 detail, triple that of his predecessors, costs $832,735.40 for his first three months, and the agency asked for an exception to DDT’s hiring freeze to hire an additional (number redacted on a memo) security members. In the past, Secretaries of State, Defense, and Homeland Security received this kind of protection, but DDT has extended it to such dangerous positions as the Secretary of Education and the EPA. Betsy DeVos costs almost $1 million a month for protection from U.S. marshals.

Pruitt also wants a sound-proof booth. He’s paying almost $25,000 for it on the floor where employees cannot take cellphones or take notes. EPA employees say that he already has one but wants it “updated.”

One of Zinke’s staff is paid to go up to the roof and hoist his secretarial flag when Zinke enters the building and reverse the process when he leaves. He is the first White House official to do that for almost a century. His deputy secretary has his own flag to fly when Zinke is gone. Another cost, the amount not identified, is Zinke’s commissioning commemorative coins with his name that he hands out to staff and visitors. Again, the use of personalized coins is unique.

Price had early on asked to reopen the executive dining room, complete with executive chef, but Price has been fired.

And DDT’s executive order attempting to destroy health care for millions will cost the country $20 billion this year.

September 30, 2017

DDT: Week Thirty-six – ‘Mind-bogglingly Bad’

Every week for Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) has given him losses, but the first week of his ninth month may have topped the previous 35 weeks. On Tuesday, he lost the Alabama GOP senatorial primary for Luther Strange against a rabid religious right-winger, Roy Moore, but deleted his tweets supporting Strange after the election, probably illegal for a person in the Oval Office to do. The Affordable Care Act lost for a fourth time since he was inaugurated although he said that Trumpcare was on track. Again he threatened North Korea with “devastating” consequences.

DDT also faced the overwhelming media coverage of government waste by his Cabinet members who love to use charter jets to the tune of over $1 million in unnecessary expenditure. One of them, former HHS Secretary Tom Price quit after DDT expressed great displeasure. A question is whether DDT dumped him for spending less money than DDT does on flights or whether the departure was because of Price’s inability to pass Trumpcare. At a Boy Scout’s jamboree last summer, DDT had threatened to fire Price if the secretary didn’t bring in the necessary congressional votes.

All these disasters were overlaid by DDT’s failure to help Puerto Rico after he was hit by two hurricanes in only two weeks. Frustrated by the lack of U.S. federal support, the mayor of San Juan (PR), Carmen Yulin Cruz, resorted to begging for assistance, saying that she has “one goal and that’s to save lives.” DDT had spent the nine days since Hurricane Maria hit the island by telling everyone that he was doing a great job. In retaliation to Cruz, he tweeted that she has “poor leadership ability” and “they want everything to be done for them.” He complained about her “nasty criticism” and blamed Democrats who “has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump. DDT included criticism of the media, naming CNN and NBC, for their coverage of the relief effort in a series of at least insulting six tweets in less than an hour that he started a little after 4:00 am. The war against Cruz continued late this afternoon.

DDT also received ridicule for his new tax cut proposal that benefits the wealthy and penalizes the poor, despite his claims that the information isn’t true. His grand plan would drop taxes for the wealthy by ten percent and increase the bottom tier by 20 percent. When questioned about his statement that the upper class will have no tax cut, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he made that statement but that “it was never a promise … never a pledge.” Even Goldman Sachs opposed the “trickle-down” justification for tax cuts, reporting that DDT’s plan adds only 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent to America’s economy in 2018 and 2019, far less than the boon that DDT predicts.

On the Russian front, bad news keeps nipping at DDT: 

  • Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said, “Our intelligence community assessment did, I think, serve to cast doubt on the legitimacy of his victory in the election.”
  • DHS finally notified 21 states that Russian hackers targeted their election systems during the 2016 election after having that information for several months.
  • Russia continues its work to influence people in the U.S. as shown through identification of  80 news stories promoted by 600 Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence operations just between September 16 and September 22, 2017.
  • DDT has refused to provide documents connected to the firing of former FBI director to the House Intelligence Committee. He may receive a subpoena for them.
  • Fake news from Russian sources saturated battleground states during the campaign that DDT barely won.
  • Russian-funded Facebook ads during the general election worked to elect DDT by praising him, criticizing Hillary Clinton, and promoting Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders after Clinton was chosen at the Democratic convention.
  • Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg said, “After the election, I made a comment that I thought the idea misinformation on Facebook changed the outcome of the election was a crazy idea. Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it.”
  • The IRS has given special investigator Robert Mueller information on top
  • DDT officials, including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
  • Twitter found and shut down 201 accounts connected to Russian operatives posting thousands of political ads on Facebook.

Meanwhile, DDT tweeted:

“Facebook was always anti-Trump.The Networks were always anti-Trump hence,Fake News, @nytimes(apologized) & @WaPo were anti-Trump. Collusion?”

Pundits are now talking about the possibility that DDT will attack North Korea to protect himself from the Russian investigation.

Acting head of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Chuck Rosenberg, a prosecutor for George W. bush and appointed by Barack Obama, quit because DDT has “little respect for the law.”

DDT spent the entire week trying to cover all his problems with his firestorm of inflammatory remarks about sports athletes. He did recognize that his statements were overboard because he later told reporters that he was not calling on supporters to boycott the NFL. In a separate tweet, he wrote that players who locked arms during the anthem were doing something “good,” despite players said they were demonstrating their unity against the president’s statements.  Trump’s political strategy follows the pattern of past offensive positions: take a divisive stand between himself and those who he describes as unpatriotic elites. He uses the controversy to dominate the news cycle, try to place himself as a strong leader, and maintain that he fights for regular working Americans nostalgic for an earlier time in the country’s history.

DDT’s war against the NFL goes back decades when he failed to buy his way into the league in 1984. The story is here. Forty years later he failed in his attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills in 2014 and wants his revenge.

Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to defend DDT by saying that it’s always “presidential” behavior and appropriate for DDT to lie and call a black athlete a “son of a b*****.” Respect the flag and disregard the Constitution is a common conservative position. Sanders said that anything the president does is “presidential.” Questioned further, Sanders said that the issue about protesting during the national anthem was “pretty black and white.” Tomorrow the NFL games—and the “black and white” issue–accelerate.

More DDT problems needing smoke-screens:

DDT invented a mythical hospitalized senator for the most recent failure of Trumpcare but claimed that they still had the votes to pass the bill.

A new travel ban has kept the old one from being argued before the Supreme Court this fall. DDT added Chad, North Korea, and government officials and their families from Venezuela to divert attention from the ban being against Muslims. North Korea won’t let their people coming into the U.S., making that country a no starter, and DDT can’t explain the problem with Chad. Even his order calls the country an “important and valuable counterterrorism partner.” DDT removed Sudan from the banned list, an odd choice because of its international terrorism and ethnic killings. Sudan, however, does have the support of the United Arab Emirates. Asked about the removal, DDT said:

“As far as the travel ban is concerned, whatever it is, I want the toughest travel ban you can have. So I’ll see you in Indiana.

DDT has nominated John Adler, former Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association president, for the Department of Justice’s director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance. His resume includes several years on the advisory board of the Heroes Health Fund, a group offering support for ‘firefighters, police, EMTs, veterans, and others harmed by toxic exposures in the line of duty’ using a detoxification program developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

DDT loyalists are reaping a rich reward with appointments to the Department of Agriculture. DDT campaign staff and volunteers hired for these positions include a long-haul truck driver, a country club cabana attendant, and the owner of a scented-candle company. Some of them lack requirements, such as a college degree, for the higher government salaries. The truck-driver may not be a college graduate, but he will be developing overseas markets for U.S. agricultural trade goods, a position requiring a master’s degree. A landscaper is assigned to helping farmers, ranchers, and forest managers use conservation practices.

Polls don’t look good for DDT:

  • Climate change: 55 percent of respondents said that climate change had made Hurricanes Irma and Harvey worse. That’s up from the 39 percent who said climate change contributed to Hurricane Katrina when asked 12 years ago. (DDT is a vociferous climate denier.)
  • Lowering corporate taxes: 65 percent of people believe that corporations pay too little in taxes, and only 11 percent think that they pay too much.
  • DDT’s Russia fees: 64 percent of the people think that DDT should pay for his own legal fees in the Russia collusion issue rather than asking the people to do this by contributing to his campaign.

Humorist Samantha Bee has gathered the conservative positions on acceptable forms of protest.

December 20, 2016

Trump’s Monsters for Cabinet Positions

Halloween came eight days late this year when Donald Trump (DT) was elected president of the United States on November 8. His selection began a parade of monsters, the like of which has not ever been seen in the Cabinet and other high federal government officials. It’s as if DT was thinking, “How much do I hate the people in the nation? Let me count the ways?” For the past month he has dribbled out names, each one more of a shock, as he uses the government as his personal toy. All his nominees for agency directors are diametrically opposed to the missions of the organizations that they would lead. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said, “Personnel is policy,” and evidenced by DT’s selections, he loves these policies:

Racism, Voter Oppression, Climate Denial—the List of Civil Wrongs Goes On and On:

jeff-sessionsSen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama is DT’s nominee for Attorney General, the person designated to protect legal rights for all the people of the United States through the Department of Justice. He may be the worst choice among all the DT nominees to be confirmed. (Michael Flynn doesn’t require confirmation for his position of Homeland Security Advisor.) It’s been 30 years since the Senate determined that Sessions was unfit to be a federal judge because of his outrageous racist comments, such as calling a black assistant U.S. attorney “boy” and the NAACP “communist inspired.” Yet his xenophobia continues into the 21st century as Sessions calls for mass deportations of undocumented immigrants and connects terror attacks against the U.S. to all Muslim immigrant families. He may also have been the architect of DT’s wall idea and thinks that people born in the United States of foreign parents should not be citizens.

Sessions also opposes voting and LGBTQ rights and is  virulently anti-marijuana—now legal at least for medical purposes in over half the states. Just two years ago, Sessions said, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Last year, he claimed that carbon dioxide is “plant food” and “not a pollutant” and accused White House  Science Advisor John Holdren of advancing a “political agenda” in explaining links between climate change and weather events such as droughts. His votes support pipelines, kill clean energy tax credits, and block the EPA. This is the man who would determine how the law of the country is interpreted and enforced.

Illness and Death:

tompriceTom Price, nominated for Secretary of Health and Human Services, wrote the bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act including the elimination of Medicaid, arguing that the health care “removes the very freedom and liberty that our founders fought for at its very core.” His plan is to privatize (aka get rid of) Medicare by this coming summer, reducing the “vouchers” to where insurance premiums will cost more than Social Security payments. Another Price goal is to decimate Medicaid by drastically cutting funding. Price also opposes paying doctors “based on quality and outcome.” He believes that the First Amendment lets employers refuse birth control to women and supports defunding Planned Parenthood and eliminating abortion. Sessions also sided with BP during its horrendous oil spill, helped create the congressional Tea Party Caucus, and is totally anti-LGBTQ.

Stupidity and Ignorance:

betsy-devosBetsy DeVos as Secretary of Education would wipe out public education through taxpayer vouchers to charter and private schools. Corporations will make a fortune in operating schools with no regulations, a curriculum that promotes religion, and minimum-wage teachers. DeVos, whose money comes from the Amway Ponzi scheme, joins Bill & Melinda Gates, Eli & Edythe Broad, and the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame to control educational policies in the nation. She is pro-creationism, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-science in her belief that global warming is a hoax.

Despite continued research showing charter school failures in many states, the DeVos “leadership” will continue the GOP dismantling of “government schools” to use taxpayer moneys for religious private schools. DeVos has compared her work in education reform to a biblical battleground where she wants to “advance God’s Kingdom.” Lamenting that public schools have “displaced” the church as the center of communities, she says that school choice leads to “greater Kingdom gain.” DeVos and her husband have put hundreds of millions of dollars toward that end.

DeVos’ brother, ex-Navy SEAL Erik Prince, founded the controversial private security contractor Blackwater (now known as Academi) and made considerable donations to first Ted Cruz and later DT. As a lobbyist with no educational experience except attending private schools, DeVos destroyed the schools in Michigan; now she has the same plan for the entire United States.

Fewer Jobs, Lower wages and No Worker Protection:

Andrew Puzder, chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc., listens during a panel discussion at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., on Monday, April 30, 2012. The conference brings together hundreds of chief executive officers, senior government officials and leading figures in the global capital markets for discussions on social, political and economic challenges. Photographer: Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants that includes Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., has been nominated for Labor Secretary. He opposes raising the minimum wage and wants to automate service jobs to have fewer workers. (Note that Puzder is the choice of the candidate who swore he would give his voters more and better jobs.) Puzder also wants to cut assistance programs and use franchises to avoid paying benefits. His own employees get the lowest wages in the nation and are forced to use taxpayer money to survive. The fast food lobby is ecstatic: International Franchise Association President and CEO Robert Cresanti is looking forward to reducing the number of workers eligible for overtime pay and elimination of accountability for labor law violations at their franchises.

In 2004, Puzder settled three class-action lawsuits about overtime pay against his company for $9 million. A lawsuit against his company in 2013 for not paying managers overtime is still pending, and Puzder said in 2014 that his company had spent $20 million on labor lawsuits in the previous eight years. In another arena, Puzder was accused of domestic abuse by his first wife; police were called to their home at least twice.

Over 100 years ago, the Department of Labor was created “to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners of the United States, to improve their working conditions, and to advance their opportunities for profitable employment.” Now it will support the wealthy—and the robots.

Like DT, Puzder would suffer from massive conflict of interest because he would run the agency in charge of investigating employees—lime himself—for labor violations. The couple are also top-notch misogynists.  One of Puzder’s commercials is here.

puzder-philosophy

Lack of Transportation:

elaine-chaoElaine Chao, wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell (R-KY) and former Secretary of Labor under George W. Bush, is DT’s nominee for the Department of Transportation. She has already shown her undying allegiance to business interests over enforcing laws to protect U.S. workers by mistreatment of workers in an epidemic of illegal salary underpayment as employers stole workers’ wages, identified by reports from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO). Chao also faked records to make her wage and hour office look better at resolving cases than it was in reality. She was also on the board of Wells Fargo when it scammed its customers for $2.4 million but stayed silent when former CEO John Stumpf quit after congressional hearings. If she is confirmed, Chao will oversee over three times the number of employees who report to the Labor Secretary and be responsible for the safety of roads, airplanes, and rails.

Rep. Bill Shuster, head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has said that DT likes the idea of privatizing air traffic control, a disaster ever since President Reagan eliminated its union and banned over 11,000 former employees from federal service for life early in his first term. Another possibility is privatizing airport security. (It might be noted that McConnell was adamant about not telling the people of the U.S. that Russia was exerting deliberate control over the 2016 presidential election. Chao’s nomination may be his reward.) Drone and driverless car industries would be delighted with Chao in this position because of her reputation for loose regulations.

The Disappearance of Small Businesses: 

linda-mcmahonLinda McMahon, the former World Wrestling Entertainment chief executive, has been nominated for Secretary of the Small Business Administration. With her reputation for crushing smaller competitors to achieve success, she’s another choice that opposes the agency mission. When she and her husband, Vince, took over WWE from Vince’s father, it was already a sizable business controlling wrestling in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast region. Showing little concern for a pact keeping independent wrestling businesses out of each other’s territories, WWE moved in, destroyed the competition, and established a monopoly. She declares wrestlers “independent contractors” and avoids such requirements as providing health insurance. The Small Business Administration acts as an advocate for small businesses by running a large loan guarantee program for them, helping with disaster relief, and advising on issues such as health care regulations. Small business owners are worried about McMahon controlling the agency.

And there are more!

December 1, 2016

The Plague Returns

It has been exactly 25 years since the identified beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. Initially it was called GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), but the name morphed into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, the last stage of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection (HIV). Originally thought to be non-existent until 1981, research now shows that its development may have come for the harsh colonial practices in French Equatorial Africa of forced labor, unsafe injections and vaccinations with unsterilized needles, and the use of “bushmeat” for food during the beginning of the 20th century.

A false sense of morality kept conservatives from stopping the onslaught of the disease during Ronald Reagan’s reign because they thought that AIDS was limited to gay men despite the fact that half those infected were non-gay. As president, Ronald Reagan didn’t even use the term “AIDS” in public for almost five years in spite of the thousands of people dying from the disease, and he failed to give a speech on the epidemic for another two years. Federal laws even kept people with AIDS from being permitted to fly on commercial airplanes.

In the past 25 years, 650,000 people in the United States died of AIDS and hundreds of thousands more were stigmatized. More people might have died if AIDS activists had not taken to the streets to force research on drugs, awareness policies, and help from the government. A new book from David France, How to Survive a Plague, chronicles the pain, frustration, anger, and work from activists over the 15 years in which the government fought them from saving lives following his Oscar-nominated documentary film four years ago.

Andrew Sullivan writes in The New York Times:  

“Here again are the manifestations of terror: the purple cancerous lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma, fatal when they migrated to your lungs; toxoplasmosis — a brain disease that turned 20-somethings into end-stage Alzheimer’s patients; pneumocystis carinii, which flooded your lungs until you drowned; cytomegalovirus, which led to blindness, so that young men in AIDS wards were ‘hugging walls and scraping the air to find their nurses’; molluscum contagiosum, covering the body in ‘small, barnacle-like papules’ that oozed pus; peripheral neuropathy, with which a mere brush of a sheet against your skin felt like an electric shock; and cryptosporidiosis, a parasite that took over people’s gastrointestinal tract, slowly starving them to death. It’s been over a decade since those Latin nouns were household words in gay life, and reading them still traumatizes.”

The brave activists fought for help, and the fight extended survival time from 18 months to 22 months after a long nine years. Deaths geometrically increased as drugs failed and researchers refused to try new ones. Yet the gay men stayed at the center of organizing drug trials and meeting with pharmaceutical executives after they made their point by taking over their offices.

Author France not only writes brilliantly but also exhaustively researches his subject. As a journalist, he was a part of the fight during these 15 years, first at the biweekly New York LGBT newspaper Native and later undercover at the New York Post where he was soon fired after the editor “found out you’re gay.”

Cynthia Carr writes:

“France’s book focuses on the science: the work of early caregiver-researchers like Dr. Joseph Sonnabend and his activist-patient Michael Callen; the search by AIDS patients for illegal—or even homemade—cures; the dithering at agencies like the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) that were supposedly studying treatments. Ultimately, center stage goes to the small group of activists who created the Treatment Action Group (TAG), an offshoot of ACT UP, and who managed to work their way inside the pharmaceutical industry. By 1996, fifteen years after the first reports of a “gay cancer,” antiretroviral drugs called protease inhibitors were allowing many patients to manage an HIV/AIDS infection. What becomes clear in How to Survive a Plague, above all, is that it needn’t have taken so long—to put it mildly.

plague“Unknown to any doctor or patient, at that point, scientists had already discovered the retrovirus that causes AIDS. Yes, early in 1983, at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. I’ve always found this to be one of the most shocking stories to emerge from the plague years, and France is not the first to tell it: how American scientist Dr. Robert Gallo tried to take the credit for this discovery after French scientist Dr. Luc Montagnier sent him samples of what would later be called HIV. Long story short, this delayed both meaningful research and the release of an antibody test.

“Then, when that first antibody test did become available, in 1985, most gay men refused to take it for fear that they would lose their jobs, their housing, and their health insurance. Most cities, including New York, had no gay-rights legislation in place. In fact, gay sex was still illegal in many states. That year, twenty state legislatures debated quarantining people with AIDS, while Republican congressman William Dannemeyer introduced a raft of homophobic legislation, including a bill that would give a long prison term to any gay person who tried to donate blood. There was simply no upside to taking the test. There were no treatments.”

“Say No to Drugs” was the mantra of the 1980s thanks to Nancy Reagan, and just owning syringes was illegal in many states.  Other countries controlled the AIDS epidemic. The German government provided funding to gay community NGOs and invited them to develop their own prevention projects. Britain publicized the problem through a campaign of “AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance.” Western countries created needle-exchange programs, distributed free syringes, and developed opiate-substitution treatment. Germany had needle-vending machines, and England and Wales distributed 25 million free syringes each year by 1997. In the United States, however, where 40,000 people develop HIV annually, the ban on federal funding for needle exchanges remained until 2009 and then was replaced in 2011 after the Tea Party swept over Congress.

With the new Trump/Pence administration, HIV and AIDS cases could soar. People would lose their medications through the disappearance of the “pre-existing condition” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Southern states have had the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses but refused federal Medicaid funding which could provide HIV meds.

When Mike Pence became governor of Indiana, the state experienced its worst HIV outbreak in its history, worsened by Pence’s decision to maintain the state ban on needle exchanges and slash funding for HIV testing facilities. This is the same governor who just gave away $7 million of public taxes to keep 1,000 jobs at Carrier in the state. Pence also tried to defund Planned Parenthood, a key HIV test source. Blamed for the HIV outbreak, Pence prayed about the problem.

Pence campaigned for Congress in 2000 by promising he would take funding away from HIV/AIDS drug research to put into organizations that would prevent LGBT behavior. He wrote, “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” His policy is to “cure the gay” and ignore HIV.

If Tom Price is confirmed for health secretary, he would control federal programs responsible for conducting HIV/AIDS research, education, treatment, and prevention. The Department of Health and Human Services oversees the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which is tasked with developing policy to combat HIV nationally. Price is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons that questions whether HIV causes AIDS. He also wants to erase the ACA, slash Medicaid funding, and privatize Medicare.

When Ebola became a threat in the United States with a very few cases, President Obama took action and stopped it. The first observed case of AIDS in the United States was followed by 15 years of ignoring the issue or joking about it. The new administration, backed up by an ultra-conservative Congress, will most likely cause HIV diagnoses and AIDS deaths to soar.

Today is the 29th annual World Aids Day, always on December 1, dedicated to raising awareness of the disease caused by HIV. You can commemorate the day by reading How to Survive a Plague, because the election of Trump and Pence pretty much guarantees that the epidemic will return.

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