Edition 1 - 2021

Akon's Dream City

Did you ever dream of moving to Senegal and living the good life in Akon City, living large on Akoin?

Or maybe the better question is, Did you ever dream of being so wealthy that you could build your own city to your own futuristic vision, and then run the whole thing with money of your own invention?

No, of course not, nobody ever dreamed of that, other than possibly Donald Trump or the pop star Akon.

Most of us didn't know Akon ("Locked Up", 2004 hit) was still around, but he is a huge star in Africa, the continent's biggest pop attraction. With a net worth estimated to be about $80 million, Akon has been an entrepreneur, launching a solar energy company, Akon Lighting Africa, that is said to operate in 18 countries.

Akon, his partners and investors (whoever they are) envision a $6 billion city to be built on a 2,000-acre oceanside plot not far from Senagal's new international airport.

The architect for the proposed project is  Hussein Bakri, CEO of Dubai's Bakri & Associates Development Consultants. He told Business Insider that "the city would be built from a mix of traditional construction materials and new materials developed specifically for Akon City. Among those are a lightweight steel and glass that generate energy. A transportation system will run both aboveground and underwater".

Bakri promises that his science fiction design will be the norm a quarter century from now. Certainly the architecture in Dubai would suggest that his prediction may be true. But where is the money coming from the fund this African urban oasis? There is a good article on the subject at Business Insider.    

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Joy Reid and Culture Envy

MSNBC personality Joy Reid recently claimed that Republicans lost the culture wars to the Democrats a long time ago and have been envious ever since.

“Democrats have the culture," she said. "They have the Hollywood culture. They have the glamorous culture, and the right hates that. They feel that the culture is too woke, it’s too multicultural. It’s not John Wayne anymore. There’s all of this multiculturalism and wokeness and liberalism and they hate it. But they also envy it. They also wish they had it. And they hate the fact that after Ronald Reagan, they no longer had a claim to the culture. They want the culture more than they want the politics.” 

One must assume that Reid's personal perception of America's culture is accurate to make that argument stick, but irony lurks. The culture that she imagines and depicts in that sentence above is, to some Americans, a culture in decline. Black popular culture has become a vulgar shadow of what many older Americans can remember as a former American treasure. And for many, White popular culture has experienced a similar deterioration of sophistication and taste.

The value of multiculturalism seems fairly obvious, but the definition and value of "wokeness" - the idea hasn't even settled into an easily usable word yet - is still in the settling stage. In fact, aspects of the woke culture, which includes cancel culture and the entire world of political correctness, seem at odds with "liberalism".    

The arc that older Americans see in the civility of life in the U.S. is something they view as an offshoot of popular culture. Speaking for myself, I don't think Joy Reid has any cultural advantage to crow about. She should do a deep dive into fairly recent American cultural history, which I think would reveal for her that we on the left aren't nearly as cool as we would like to think we are. We've gone from Ella Fitzgerald to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. That's not winning.  

Why All the Pharmaceutical Ads?

Every weekday night, as my wife and I settle in to watch the nightly news, we are overwhelmed by the flood of commercials for pharmaceuticals. It is stuff you are encouraged to ask your doctor about. Some will let you "show more of yourself", relieved as you will be of your minor skin condition. Of course, there is a long list of side effects, all of which seem worse than psoriasis. Of course, there are more serious drugs, like one that promises the dying that they can live a few weeks longer. I suppose that means that patient can go ahead with vacation plans without fear of a forfeited deposit.

Googling the amount of money the pharmaceutical industry spends every year on advertising yields uncertain results. I found one result that said the industry spent $26.9 billion in 2016, and another that put the 2018 spent at $6.46 billion . 

The industry  supposedly spends over $186 billon each year in research and development, with expectatons of spending more than $230 billion by 2026, so marketing and advertising are a mere drop in the bucket by comparison.

Of course, to the television industry, which relies on that cash flow, those pharmaceutical companies are indespensable. In fact, what would become of the networks and the cable news station if suddenly the advertising of drugs was outlawed.

TV programming would disappear, and with that we would likely also lose a great number of influences that make us feel that we need to take drugs in the first place. There are more than 17,700 prescription drugs availble for use. No doubt many of them help people suffering from illnesses, but America is not a particularly well country. 

The financial news publication Bloomberg keeps an account of "healthiest countries" - one would like to know which of the countries in which they might invest have Achilles Heal health issues - and in 2019 America ranked 35th out of 169 countries.

Every day we read stories about breakthroughs in research that would eradicate cancer and reverse the aging process. But then years pass and those stories are replaced by others, and nothing ever seems to really change. New remedies for ailments will be developed and sold, but mostly there will be a planned obsolescence at work.

It isn't just the drugs that go bad, but also the people. With all that research, there is apparently no help for our condition as life-limited carbon-based forms.

The only thing that goes on forever is the cash flow out of the pharmaceutical companies, and the chattering of those classes dependent upon their suckle.

 Here is a Google finding: From 2000 to 2018, 35 large pharmaceutical companies reported cumulative revenue of $11.5 trillion, gross profit of $8.6 trillion, EBITDA of $3.7 trillion, and net income of $1.9 trillion, while 357 S&P 500 companies reported cumulative revenue of $130.5 trillion, gross profit of $42.1 trillion, EBITDA of $22.8 trillion.

And another: Whether or not that business is good for patients or even legal are certainly debatable. But what's beyond debate is that illegitimate practices, from misbranding to illegal promotion to doctor bribes to preventing lower-cost generics from making it to market, are highly profitable for the pharmaceutical industry.

One can wonder at a drug empire controlling an entire population through their product and through their control of the media that hawks their products. 

QAnon is Gone but those Legends Linger On

QAnon seems to have died with the election victory of Joe Biden. While the media is feasting on the disillusionment of QAnon supporters, while spreading fear about what might come next from that group of "wackos", that all   seems of little importance as QAnon was never more than a rallying place in the minds of people concerned about a gut-wrenching array of perceived threats. 

QAnon exploited a strange panoply of seemingly unrelated conspiracy theories, leveraging them to suggest an omnibus conspiracy that made an unlikely hero of Donald Trump, who viewed that as an opportunity. He exploited his QAnon followers, who saw the whole scam come crashing down on January 6, as Congress attempted to confirm Joe Biden's election as the 46th President of the United States while  a large group of brainwashed Trump supporters stormed the nation's capitol. 

Trump urged them to mayhem and then went back to the White House and enjoyed the whole show on TV. Astonishingly, the insurgents assumed that Trump would prevail and save them all from legal liability for their actions,  but they didn't seem to know their hero very well, and he let them down.

Now many of the rioters are looking at time in federal prisons, and Trump is out of office and in danger of being convicted in the Senate in his second impeachment trial. And there is a District Court in New York that would very much like to send the Donald to prison, too.   

While impeachment and QAnon have already receded into American history, in terms of their lasting importance, all of those strange conspiracy theories that came together under QAnon remain alive. 

People are still going to watch documentaries about Stanley Kubrick, and interviews with Nicole Kidman, and remain convinced that somehow pedophilia exists as an operating principle among powerful and secretive people.

Some are still going to reference those hacked DNC emails, from the 2016 election, that convinced them that powerful political figures are monsters, possibly even ghouls.   

And David Icke's extraordinary oeuvre of speculation about the nature of humankind, including his conviction that humans are under the control of reptilian overlords, will remain a magnet for people looking for explanations for why humans behave as they do.   

People will still believe that the U.S. Government is a front operation, using misinformation about our democracy to shield the nefarious purposes of a few powerful families.

Religious fundamentalists will still believe that their sacred documents are the word of the only God, and people will still hold onto their race biases, and the battle will continue between the states right folks and adherents of a strong central government. 

Women will never understand men, and men will never understand anything at all. 

And the rich will continue to get richer, the poor poorer, and that dynamic will seal the deal for those who are on the fuzzy end of that lollipop. What must be going on here? They will continue to ask. 

Perhaps QAnon will be replaced by some other rallying force, but that would be in service to politics or the assemblage of an army, neither of which would be likely to dash the flame of those odd inquiries, those thirsts for explanations.    

In fact, until everyone in the world feels that they are being treated "right", we are going to continue to be buffeted by those bumper car drivers who will not be content with blending in with any wholly desultory flow. 

Tumbling Towers of Trust

In the Summer of 2016, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey that yielded results so conflicting that no one should be suprised by anything that has happened in the U.S. over the ensuing four-plus years.

Respondents were most proud of the way Americans responded to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. That topped the list for about one in five respondents, easily beating out the election of the country's first Black president, though respondents were also buoyed by the killing of Osama Bin Laden and, apparently in a general way, the Ronald Reagan presidency.

There is enough discordance in that pride list to keep Americans on the pyschiatrist's couch forever, which is further reflected in the list of things that disappointed Americans most.

The election of the nation's first Black president was prominent on that list, too. The September 11 events disappointed respondents on a par with gay marriage. The 2 percent who were chuffed with the Reagan presidency were disappointed by the George W. Bush presidency, but didn't G.W. Bush see them through that 9-11 event that gave them such robust American pride?

Ten percent said they were most disappointed by the election of Donald Trump, who was a vulgar version of  Ronald Reagan.

People weren't real happy about being lied to by the G.W. Bush administration's war-hawking  the U.S. into intractable engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. So why is G.W. Bush so popular today as an ex-President?

Respondents were dismayed by the school shootings and America's lack of gun control laws, and by the treatment of our service veterans. That would no doubt include the backdoor draft that the government engaged in to service the Middle East initiatives, which included activation of Reserve units, including elements of the National Guard, for long assignments in war zones.

While that 2016 survey revealed a nation with personality fracture, it didn't delve into the influences that created the perceptions revealed in those surveys.

People recognize when they are being lied to, if not in the moment then later when expectations set by dishonest interactions prove to be unjustified.

They see, on their TV screens everyday, reporters who are repeating messages that are obviously more agenda-driven points of view than they are verified journalistic discoveries.   They feel as if they have been lied to, perpetually misled by the institutions they feel they should be able to trust.

We saw the results in this survey, though we didn't seem to be able to use anything from these findings to steer us around the shoals of the Trump administration. Trump, of course, could have used these survey results to set his course and maybe make America better. Instead, he seemed to emphasize and marginalize the worst and best instincts of Americans, in that order.

Of course, that's just opinion. 

Should the Senate Convict the "Don of Impeachment"?

Right up to the end of his administration, Donald Trump set the agenda for Congress.

He did it mostly by challenging Congressional leaders in direct, confrontational ways. He forced his first impeachment trial, not by the crimes he was accused of committing, but by pummeling his adversaries  (Schumer, Pelosi, Schiff) with total contempt for the possibility of repercussion. They finally had to act, just to keep face, but in the process of acting they revealed themselves to be more spiteful than well-reasoned.     

Trump's abuses were ongoing to the extent that people became innured to them. Somehow he got away with running his businesses even while holding office, and not revealing his tax returns, and engaging in Mafia tactics to pressure people to do his bidding. 

Until January 6, Trump was untouchable, the results of his actions always being open to interpretation, but there was no ignoring the violence he incited against the Capitol. It was an assault on institutions Americans are hard-wired to hold sacred, and so a bridge too far for even many of his supporters - the ones that weren't arrested for their insurgent actions. They thought Donald was going to save them, when he was only going to disavow them if they failed to overturn the Biden victory.    

So now the Donald is gone, but back in the Senate as the accused.

The Democrats have a strong case against Trump this time, though it may not be enough to sway enough Republicans to convict. 

The big wins are all vindiction, payback for four years of abuse. And the best of all, to the wounded Pelosi especially, is that a convicted Trump could never hold office again.

Whether or not the conviction of Donald Trump in Senate impeachment would help the polarized U.S. is hard to judge. Clearly Trump shed a lot of regular Republican support with his call to attack Congress, but how much damage would a conviction based on retribution for bullying do in a country where Republicans just don't like Democrats. 

That's the thing: people will stop concerning themselves with Donald Trump, likely burned out on all his drama.   

They won't, however, overlook a gloating foe, a gleeful Pelosi or a crowing Schumer.

 In true form, it may be that the Democrats, and a few Republicans, finally have no choice. They may need to run the gauntlet of public opinion because they took an oath to the Constitution, which was attacked by Trump in a most fundamental way.

Their challenge will be in convincing the hard-right that pummeling an already deposed king was the right thing to do.  



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