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Wealthy Americans Are Trying to Jump to the Front of the Vaccine Line

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  • Health care workers and other high-risk populations are starting to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Doses will not be available to the general public for many months, but wealthy people are trying to angle their way to the front of the line.
  • High-end medical practices are receiving hundreds of calls from patients who want to get the vaccine as soon as possible, per a report from the Los Angeles Times. Some have asked if $25,000 donations to hospitals could earn them a shot.
  • These practices are used to giving their affluent patients whatever they want, but for the first time are having to tell them no. Right now, the vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna are not for purchase by private citizens and the government is in charge of distribution.
  • Still, concierge doctors are trying to make sure they have doses ready to go the second it is possible. Watchdogs also say that well-connected people might try to rig the system to get it soon, either via a vaccine black market or by trying to argue that they are among a priority population.

The Pandemic Has Favored Wealthy People

Now that the coronavirus vaccine is being distributed to healthcare workers and long-term care patients in all 50 states, wealthy people are doing everything they can to make sure they are next to get it.

The Food and Drug Administration has so far approved two vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, and both cannot be bought. The government is distributing them to hospitals and care facilities where they are to be administered to those the CDC and other leading officials have given priority to. After healthcare workers and nursing home residents get it, essential workers and immunocompromised individuals are next. It will be months before they are available to the general public. 

But wealthy people have been able to rig the pandemic in their favor since it began and they intend to keep that pattern up. When testing was scarce in March and April, those with money were able to shell out hundreds of dollars on tests while those working in hospitals or experiencing severe symptoms were left empty-handed. When it comes to treatment, people like President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Guiliani got experimental antibody treatments after their COVID-19 diagnoses. This fast-tracked their recovery time and potentially saved them from a much more severe illness. This is a privilege they know is available to them. 

“If it wasn’t me, I wouldn’t have been put in a hospital frankly,” Giuliani told WABC radio in New York. “Sometimes when you’re a celebrity, they’re worried if something happens to you they’re going to examine it more carefully, and do everything right.”

Affluent people have been getting this A-list treatment despite the fact that they already have everything tool available to avoid ever coming across the virus in the first place. 

“They are among the most capable of mitigating the dangers of exposure for themselves,” Shamus Khan, professor of sociology and American studies at Princeton University wrote for The Washington Post. “Most can get their groceries delivered without any social contact. They are more likely to work the kinds of jobs that can be performed remotely.”

However, Khan added that wealthy people are also “more likely to be selfish and act unethically.”

“They are more likely to think of themselves as more important than other people and less likely to give to others,” he wrote, linking to numerous studies proving this pattern of behavior. 

Attempts to Buy a Spot In the Front of The Vaccine Line

Because of this, and the fact that people with money are seldom told they cannot spend it on whatever they want, they are using their heavy pockets to do anything they can to boost their place in line. 

Dr. Jeff Toll, who has admitting privileges at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center told the Los Angeles Times that he received a call from a patient who asked, “If I donate $25,000 to Cedars, would that help me get in line?” The answer was “no.”

“We get hundreds of calls every single day,” said Dr. Ehsan Ali, who runs Beverly Hills Concierge Doctor told the L.A. Times. “This is the first time where I have not been able to get something for my patients.”

California’s elite, which includes everyone from movie stars to tech CEOs, are not looking to hear “no” as an answer. 

“These people don’t usually have to wait,” Dr. Toll told ABC 7

Dr. David Nazarian, of My Concierge MD in Beverly Hills, told the outlet that many high-profile clients are waving money in an effort to get vaccinated.

“They wanted it yesterday,” Dr. Nazarian said ABC 7. “We will play by the rules but are doing everything we can to secure and distribute the vaccine when it’s available to us.”

Now, doctors for the rich are working to make sure that when the time comes, their clients are first. 

“As soon as we heard about the vaccine coming to market, we started looking for freezers,” Andrew Olanow, co-founder of concierge practice Sollis Health told the L.A. Times. Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines must be kept in ultracold temperatures. The freezers that can store them are expensive and not easily accessible. 

Sollis told the Times that “larger governmental orders” sucked up most of the supply and that he will have to wait a month to get the six he ordered. Clinics just placing their orders now will have to wait even longer. 

How Money and Power Can Get the Vaccine

Some leaders are trying to ensure that well-to-do people do not see big vaccine privileges. California Governor Gavin Newsom has said the state will be “very aggressive in making sure that those with means, those with influence, are not crowding out those that are most deserving of the vaccines.”

Still, the vaccine is already landing in the hands of those with influence. Vice President Mike Pence, who spent months downplaying the severity of the coronavirus with the rest of the Trump Administration, publicly took the vaccine on Friday. Several senators, many of whom are stalling on passing legislation to provide relief to the millions of Americans who have been suffering most of the year as a result of this pandemic, have also gotten the highly sought after shot. 

“Vaccine privilege worries me,” wrote epidemiologist and health economist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding. “Well connected athletes, politicians, & the wealthy will manage to get special early access to the COVID19 vaccine before they are supposed to. The special treatment will degrade public trust. We must be ready to call it out.”

“We know it will be coming, either via direct black market sales or fudging during the ‘high risk’ population rollout phase.”

The L.A. Times said that the scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines could lead to a “thriving black market.” Well-connected people in the medical field could give doses to friends, family, or even sell them off if the price is right. 

That’s not the only way wealthy people might be able to maneuver their way into early vaccination. Essential workers and those with pre-existing conditions are in the second phase of many states’ rollout plans and the definitions of both leave room for a wide gray area. This means that affluent people might be able to argue their way into a vaccine, saying that their job or a condition they have makes them deserving of a shot. 

“With enough money and influence, you can make a convincing argument about anything,” Glenn Ellis, a bioethicist and a visiting scholar at Tuskegee University told the Times. Others have similar concerns. 

“Every system has a weak link somewhere, and I’m sure someone is going to find it and someone’s going to exploit it,” Alison Bateman-House, an assistant professor of medical ethics at New York University told the outlet. “The question is: Where’s that weak link going to be, and how quickly will it be identified and stopped?”

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Los Angeles Times) (ABC 7)

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Donald Trump and Eldest Three Children Hit With Fraud Lawsuit From New York AG

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AG Letitia James says that the former president “falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself.” 


Lawsuit Filed Against Trump 

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced on Wednesday that she filed a civil lawsuit against former president Donald Trump and his three eldest children over allegations that they fraudulently inflated asset valuations within the Trump Organization.

Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump are all listed alongside their father in the lawsuit. Executives Jeffrey McConney and Allen Weisselberg, the latter of whom recently pled guilty to tax crimes, are also listed alongside other Trump businesses. 

“Donald Trump, with the help of his children…and senior executives at the Trump Organization, falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to induce banks to lend money to the Trump Organization on more favorable terms than would otherwise have been available to the company, to satisfy continuing loan covenants, to induce insurers to provide insurance coverage for higher limits and at lower premiums, and to gain tax benefits, among other things,”  a press release announcing the lawsuit claimed. 

The Attorney General’s office claims that between 2011 and 2021, Trump and the Trump Organization made 200 false and misleading claims about asset values on annual financial statements.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in a State Supreme Court in Manhattan. 

“The complaint demonstrates that Trump falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself and to cheat the system, thereby cheating all of us,” James said while announcing the complaint. 

Her office is seeking to permanently ban Trump and his children from serving as an officer or director in any New York corporation and to bar Trump and his organization from entering into any New York real estate acquisitions for five years. The office is also seeking to recover $250 million in penalty payments, among other forms of relief. 

 The Office of the Attorney General has also referred the matter to the federal attorneys in New York and to the IRS for criminal investigation. 

“There aren’t two sets of laws for people in this nation: former presidents must be held to the same standards as everyday Americans,” James added in a statement on social media. 

“Trump’s crimes are not victimless,” she continued. “When the well-connected and powerful break the law to get more money than they are entitled to, it reduces resources available to working people, small businesses, and taxpayers.”

Trump Allegedly Inflated Key Assets

According to James’ release, Trump “made known through Mr. Weisselberg that he wanted his net worth on his statements to increase every year.”

“And the statements were the vehicle by which his net worth was fraudulently inflated by billions of dollars year after year,” the release continued. 

Among the assets Trump and his organization allegedly inflated was the Trump Tower Triplex, an apartment Trump allegedly claimed was 30,000 square feet when it is just around 11,000 square feet. Because of its ballooned size, the property was valued at $327 million in 2015, roughly three times as much as the sole apartment in New York City to ever sell for over $100 million at the time. 

For further comparison, the highest sale for a listing in Trump Tower at the time was only $16 million. 

Trump also allegedly claimed Mar-a-Lago was valued as high as $739 million based on the “false premise” that the property could be developed and sold for residential use. The lawsuit claims that Trump actually signed deeds donating those rights, limiting the property’s use to a social club. James and her office claim its value would fall closer to $75 million. 

Inflated Clauations Cannot Be “Excused”

“The inflated asset valuations in the Statements cannot be brushed aside or excused as merely the result of exaggeration or good faith estimation about which reasonable real estate professionals may differ,”  the lawsuit states, adding that instead, they are the result of improper methodology intentionally meant to falsely boost Trump’s net worth. 

The investigation into Trump’s alleged fraud began nearly three years ago, and the former president has repeatedly called it a politically motivated witch hunt. His attorney, Alina Habba, doubled down on that rhetoric in a statement Wednesday. 

“Today’s filing is neither focused on the facts nor the law – rather, it is solely focused on advancing the Attorney General’s political agenda,” Habba said. “We are confident that our judicial system will not stand for this unchecked abuse of authority, and we look forward to defending our client against each and every one of the Attorney General’s meritless claims.”

For his part, Trump has blasted the lawsuit on Truth Social, calling James a “fraud” and a “crime-fighting disaster.”

Trump previously tried to impede the probe but was ultimately ordered by a judge to sit for a deposition and turn over subpoenaed documents. Reports say he pled the fifth hundreds of times during his deposition. 

See what others are saying: (Bloomberg) (The Washington Post) (Reuters)

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Hurricane Fiona Causes “Catastrophic” Damage in Puerto Rico, Leaving Many Without Power

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While power has been restored to some, more than a million remain without it as continued rainfall, flooding, and landslides are expected to cause further damage across the island.


Hurricane Fiona Wreaks Havoc

Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico Sunday, bringing heavy rains, flooding, and landslides, while also knocking out power for the entire island and killing at least one person.

Photos and videos posted on social media show floodwaters consuming major streets and engulfing cars. Some pictures show an entire bridge flooded, making it impassible. Other footage shows a different bridge entirely uprooted and a metal barrier ripped away from the road and floating down a river of floodwater.

Officials have said conditions are still too dangerous to fully evaluate the extent of the crisis. In remarks to the public, Puerto Rico’s governor, Pedro Pierluisi, described the damage as “catastrophic.”

He asserted that the storm has been one of the most significant since Hurricane Maria — which hit the island almost exactly 5 years ago to the day — killing more than 3,000 people, leaving many without power for months, and causing destruction that the island is still recovering from.

Pierluisi noted that Puerto Rico has received over 30 inches of rain and that some areas have even gotten more rain than during Hurricane Maria. As of Monday afternoon, the National Gaurd has led 30 rescue operations so far, saving more than 1,000 stranded residents in 25 municipalities, according to the governor.

Pierluisi also added that more than 2,000 people were in the island’s 128 shelters, with officials further saying there is plenty of shelter space for those who need it. On Sunday, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, which will allow federal agencies to coordinate disaster relief.

Continued Issues As Storm Rages On

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s water authority has confirmed that just over 70% of the island is still without water. According to poweroutage.us, more than 1.3 million customers were still without power as of Monday morning.

The power company LUMA also stated that electricity had been restored to around 100,000 customers over the course of Sunday night, though it previously warned that the full restoration of power could take several days as the storm has created “incredibly challenging” conditions.

While Hurricane Fiona has passed through Puerto Rico, having now made landfall in the Dominican Republic, officials and experts say that heavy rains and further flooding are still to be expected for the next few days.

The National Weather Service has warned that “life-threatening and catastrophic flooding” as well as mudslides and landslides are expected to continue across the island. As a result, Pierluisi has urged Puerto Ricans Monday to remain home and in shelters so that officials can continue to respond to others in need.

He also noted that the areas most impacted by the hurricane include the southern part of the island, the southwest, and the mountains.

After moving through the Dominican Republic, Hurricane Fiona is expected to head towards Turks and Caicos Tuesday. The National Hurricane Center has said that the storm will continue to grow and by Wednesday, it is set to become a major hurricane — which means a Category 3 or higher.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN

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Government Aid Cut Child Poverty in Half During Pandemic, Data Shows

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The reduction occurred similarly across geography, race, family type, and citizenship status.


Largest Drop in Half a Century

The United States’s child poverty rate sank to the lowest level on record last year, primarily thanks to pandemic relief measures and other government programs, according to an analysis of census data released Tuesday.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s supplementary poverty measure, which accounts for safety net programs and tax credits as well as regional differences in the cost of living.

From around 11% in 2019, the percentage of kids living below the poverty line fell to 9.7% in 2020 and 5.2% the year after that.

In just two years, nearly 5.5 million kids were lifted from poverty, marking an almost 60% drop in the child poverty rate.

The Center’s researchers gave most credit to the federal government’s numerous interventions in the economy, from stimulus payments and the expanded child tax credit to eviction moratoriums and expanded unemployment insurance.

Without government intervention, poverty in 2020 would have experienced its second-largest recorded increase, the Center claimed, but instead, it underwent the largest single-year decline in over half a century.

Especially impactful was the expanded child tax credit, which sent up to $300 per child to households with children every month between July and December 2021.

According to the analysis, this policy alone pulled nearly three million kids out of poverty.

But the tax credit’s expansion expired at the end of the year despite Democrats’ efforts to prolong it with Biden’s signature Build Back Better bill, which was blocked by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who reportedly told colleagues he was concerned that families might use the payments to buy drugs.

Poverty Before COVID

Child poverty has fallen by 59% since 1993, when it sat at around 28%, according to another analysis published Sunday by The New York Times and the nonpartisan group Child Trends.

They found that the decline occurred across all 50 states and D.C., as well as in different levels of poverty.

It similarly affected nearly all subgroups of children, — white, Black, Asian and Hispanic, single-parent and two-parent, immigrant and non-immigrant.

The causes driving the pre-pandemic decline included general economic improvement — low unemployment, a higher labor force participation rate among single mothers, and growing state minimum wages — but the researchers pinned government welfare programs as the dominant factor.

They specifically mentioned the earned income tax credit, social security, unemployment insurance, and nutrition and housing assistance.

Despite the positive trend, more than eight million children still live below the poverty line, and that number excludes those who live just above it but still struggle to meet basic needs.

The current poverty line sits around $29,000 for a family of four in a location with typical living costs.

Moreover, disparities still persist, with Black and Latino children about three times as likely as their white peers to be poor.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (The New York Times) (The Washington Post)

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